Setting the Scene for Mystery

A wooden dock leads off to some sunset-illuminated water and the post title, "Setting the Scene for Mystery" is superimposed on the top.

The setting for the Sgt. Windflower Mysteries is not just a prop or a way to entice the reader to enter the realm of these books, although I certainly hope that it does. It is much more than that. For me the setting is the story, at least the beginning of the adventure. It is the only part of the story that I control. I get to start the story by setting the scene. Once I begin the journey the characters come and tell me the rest of the story and I just write it down.

It’s been like that from the very first time I sat down on the wharf in Grand Bank, Newfoundland on the easternmost tip of Canada and gazed out into the fog at the blinking lighthouse. Sgt. Winston Windflower almost walked out of that fog and introduced himself to me and started telling me his story. Sure, I get to limit some character’s voices from time to time and maybe I have a little say over the moral lines that I will allow the characters to play within. But once I have the setting, that opening scene, the story flows on its own.

So, for me, the bigger question is not how the setting affects the story, but rather why an author would choose a particular setting. Because once that choice has been made a lot of things flow from that including the physical environment, the weather and what the characters can actually do during the progression of the story line. I chose the Grand Bank area of Canada because it is located in my home province and I wanted to describe the physical beauty of the natural surroundings and tell some of the history of the area.

I have tried to capture the beauty of the ever-moving ocean and banks of fog that linger on the horizon, but words can barely touch the canvas that creation has revealed to us. That’s why I always put a picture on the front cover that illustrates it far better than my words ever could. Like the lighthouse in Grand Bank on The Walker in the Cape and the boardwalk in Burin on The Body on the T. Or the fishermen’s wharf and fishing stages or rooms in Fortune on A Twist of Fortune. All real places that I have visited and that a reader can too by looking at the cover or reading the book.

The setting by the Atlantic Ocean also makes the weather a real character in all of the Sgt. Windflower Mysteries. It is almost always windy and the potential for some form of precipitation is high at any time of day or in any season. Both of those force people inside, sometimes for a meal, sometimes for coffee, sometimes just for shelter from a storm. It allows me to show people in close quarters where their interactions reveal more of themselves, their true selves and their intentions. Maybe even their motives…. Plus, it’s always a great opportunity to show off the delicious cuisine of the local area and maybe even a chance for Windflower to get a piece of his favorite chocolate peanut butter cheesecake.

For me, I simply couldn’t set the Sgt. Windflower Mysteries anywhere but in Newfoundland. It gives it the touch, texture, smell and feel of the ocean breeze blowing in my hair. The salt air wind whipping the bedsheets drying on the clothesline. It makes the characters come alive and hopefully makes them real to the readers as well. Come back to Grand Bank and experience it yourself in the latest adventure, A Tangled Web.

Cover shows a coastal village with the name of the book "A Tangled Web" by Mike Martin, superimposed on the front.
A Tangled Web is the latest book in the Sgt. Windflower Mystery series set on the East Coast of Canada. The previous book in the Series A Long Ways from Home was shortlisted for the Bony Blithe Award as the “Best Light Mystery of the year”.
“Life is good for Sgt. Wind­flower in Grand Bank, Newfoundland. But something’s missing from the Mountie’s life. Actually, a lot of things go missing, including a little girl and supplies from the new factory. It’s Windflower’s job to unravel the tangled web of murder, deceit and an accidental kidnapping that threatens to engulf this sleepy little town and destroy those closest to him. But there’s always good food, good friends and the love of a great woman to make everything better in the end.”
Photo via Visualhunt.com
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8 thoughts on “Setting the Scene for Mystery

  1. This is really interesting; thanks. I think setting has to be a conscious choice for an author, because there are so many ways in which it interacts with the story. So that question – why set the story in a given place – is an important one.

  2. I find weather fascinating and love a book that uses weather almost as a supporting character. i think weather is that important to telling a good story.

  3. Hi Elizabeth – good thoughts from Mike … I can relate to your sea setting – living on the sea myself, and having spent a great deal of my time in Cornwall – where the weather rules, but the setting just of the locality gives a glimpse into the story … cheers Hilary

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