When Setting is Also Character

By C. Hope Clark

The most enticing books for me to read spin setting into character. In other words, the story wouldn’t be nearly as delicious without a well-defined sense of place. Even more so if the story couldn’t exist without that specific locale.

If a story is in Los Angeles, then it needs to be there for a reason. Likewise, if it’s in Alabama or India or Portugal, the setting has to carry its weight in perpetuating the story and adding substance to its telling.

A setting can be more than a town or country, too. The setting might be a haunted resort like in The Shining, a train like in Murder on the Orient Express, or a cabin cruiser as in The Woman in Cabin 10. The point is that place is crucial to the tale.

I write mystery. A fan once told me that my stories were “destination mysteries.” She nailed two words into a description I hadn’t quite parsed into the right phrase, and I love the term. My fourteen novels are divided into three series, and setting gives them as much considerable strength as the strong protagonist women who solve the crimes.

All my books are set in South Carolina, and my goal in The Carolina Slade Mysteries was to be the Sue Grafton of South Carolina, setting each book in a different county or region of the state I love so much. The places are real, and the protagonist solves crime that falls under the department of agriculture, which further defines the setting in places like farms, secluded wooded areas, and marshes. A reader opens the book knowing there’s nothing urban about these crimes, and bodies disappear under the oddest of circumstances from gators to poisons existing in plants that grow in everyday ditches.

In The Edisto Island Mysteries, my largest and most popular series, Police Chief Callie Morgan manages the island town of Edisto Beach, actually located in the southern end of the state. The setting is rich with nature since this area is far from developed like the average tourist beach. There’s jungle, boggy marsh, and deep ocean for all sorts of debauchery, and along with the setting comes senses galore. The vinegary scent of Carolina pluff mud against the brine of the sea. Humidity you can drink and temperatures that cook you red and peeling. The salty taste of shrimp and the bite of a heavy-handed gin and tonic on a hot August evening.

My newest series is The Craven County Mysteries, somewhat similar to Karin Slaughter’s Grant County Series in that everything happens in one community, allowing the reader to become personally invested in its people, places, and style of living. The protagonist Quinn Sterling is not only a private investigator, but she is “the last heir in the oldest family in the oldest county in South Carolina.” Circumstances tore her from her FBI dream and into the role of owner and manager of a 3,000-acre pecan dynasty in the dark, humid Lowcountry. That 300-year-old farm is wrought with incredible sensory stimulation along with the black-water Edisto River snaking its border.

I write what I love to read . . . a story sunk into a world I can disappear into, become intimate with, and feel the gist of coming home when I pick up the next book in the series. And from the comments of readers, they seem to love the familiarity just like I do.

C. Hope Clark’s latest releases are Murdered in Craven and Burned in Craven, books 1 and 2 in The Craven County Mysteries. Hope lives on the banks of Lake Murray in central South Carolina when she isn’t walking the state’s Edisto Island beach. She lives with her husband, a retired federal agent, and two dachshunds, and her previous career in agriculture as a financial manager and subsequent internal investigator and director comes out in her tales. She has more books under contract and will write South Carolina mysteries until she can write no more. Hope is also founder of FundsforWriters.com, selected by Writer’s Digest for its 101 Best Websites for Writers for 20 consecutive years, and freelances in Writer’s Digest books, magazine, and online events. www.chopeclark.com / www.fundsforwriters.com

Buy Links:

Murdered in Craven –

Amazon – https://amzn.to/3EaPwoH
BN – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/murdered-in-craven-c-hope-clark/1140504992
Autographed copies – http://www.chopeclark.com

Burned in Craven –

Amazon – https://amzn.to/32fRPtp
BN – https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/burned-in-craven-c-hope-clark/1140505085
Autographed copies – http://www.chopeclark.com

11 thoughts on “When Setting is Also Character”

  1. Hi, I love it when the setting is described really good and it makes me sink right into it. I enjoyed reading your post. Thank you so much. Have a great week and stay safe.

  2. I love all Clark’s series but my favorite is the Edisto Island one. She has made that setting so real and enticing, it is now on my bucket list of places I want to visit – not for just a day or two but for a week or two at least. I wonder if I’ll be disappointed to discover that the police chief is not named Callie Morgan?

  3. Some great points and I couldn’t agree more about the role of setting. I just rereleased a mystery set in Wyoming cattle country. The prairie land is as much a character as the human characters, critical to the plot and the characters’ behavior.

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