Creating Unique Settings for the Cozy Mystery

Happy to have one half of the dynamic duo writing team of Joyce and Jim Lavene guest blogging for me today! Take it away Joyce…

Setting can be anything, anywhere, which conveys the mood, place and time of a mystery.
A story’s setting is what puts readers in the same place with the character. It gives the reader a sense of who a character is, and what that character is experiencing. Creating a believable setting is vital to any fiction.
A cozy mystery is no exception. The story can be humorous or thoughtful. It can be scary or paranormal—loaded with ghosts and demons. It can take place in the past, in the future, or in present day. All of these details become real in your setting.
Make your setting as dynamic as possible. Don’t throw in a bunch of unimportant facts that have nothing to do with the movement of your story. Use setting consciously to communicate specific information and achieve a particular effect on your audience.
Providing the backdrop for the sleuth
Where the cozy sleuth lives, works and plays is important to the overall picture of his/her personality. If the sleuth travels, where they travel, problems with travel, become part of the story. (Losing their luggage, being stranded at an airport where they find a dead body.) The backdrop doesn’t have to be exotic. The most important thing is that it provides exactly the right place for the sleuth.
Be familiar with your setting. If the story isn’t set somewhere you know intimately, be prepared to do adequate research or travel there. A good mystery reader can tell a fake location.
In our Missing Pieces Mysteries, our sleuth is Dae O’Donnell. She is the mayor of her small town, Duck, North Carolina. Duck is a real place in the N.C Outer Banks. We visited the area frequently as much to give our readers real landmarks (Kitty Hawk, the Hatteras Lighthouse) and a sense of what it’s like to live in this place. Pirate and ghost stories abound here. It’s a much different life than Dae would have if we’d put her character in Raleigh!

Giving the reader a sense of time and place

The cozy mystery reader wants the whole picture. While the personality of the sleuth is important, so is where they live and solve crimes. The setting provides the reader with important information that can be used to help ferret out the clues to the mystery.
Be conscious of time. Don’t start a story by telling your readers that the sleuth woke up Monday morning then skip to Wednesday. Today’s readers are sophisticated and detail oriented. Think of your setting as the background of a tapestry that you’re weaving. Include specific details. Let your reader know what it tastes like and smells like. (What does your sleuth see? What do they hear?)
Because our mystery series are in the South, we include plant life, foods, customs and some dialect from our home in North Carolina. We try to bring our readers a small slice of southern living, without falling into stereotypes, in every book. Each of our books is set in a distinct season.

Making the story seem realistic

While realism in the cozy is not applied to details of the murder, it is important to suspending the disbelief of your reader. Every reader must be convinced of your reality. The setting of the story can be a powerful tool to enhance belief, take the reader from his/her armchair, and catapult them headfirst into the mystery.
Sight, sound, smell and impressions of other people who inhabit your sleuth’s world are crucial to making your story a success. If your sleuth catches a bus in Atlanta at midnight, be sure the buses run at that time. If your sleuth lives near the ocean, include the gritty sand and the sound of gulls. 
Our next book in the Missing Pieces Series, is A Haunting Dream (December 4th, 2012). We hope to transport our readers to Duck again with the smell of the salt air, the sounds of the sea, the feeling of living in a small town of less than 600 people. Our mayor is facing re-election in this book and she’s forced to work with a woman she fears to find a missing child.
What do YOU use to convey time, place and ambiance to readers in your work?
Joyce Lavene writes bestselling mystery with her husband/partner Jim. They have written and published more than 60 novels for Harlequin, Berkley and Charter Books along with hundreds of non-fiction articles for national and regional publications. She lives in rural North Carolina with her family, her cat, Quincy, and her rescue dog, Rudi. She enjoys photography, watercolor, gardening and long rides in her car. 

Want a FREE copy?? Enter to win a copy of Joyce and Jim Lavene’s book, A Haunting Dream, by commenting at their blog site,! 


  1. You ought to be a part of a contest for one of the highest quality blogs
    on the web. I will recommend this website!

  2. Great post, Joyce. I originally made up a town then realized that the gold country where my series is set is such a terrific area with wineries, apple farms and gold mining history, so why not use the real thing. People enjoy learning more about the California gold country and fans have toured Placerville, AKA “Hangtown.” The local stores and restaurants have benefited and the Chamber of Commerce loves me.

    PS – Your series is great!

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