Wondering how to chose the setting for your novel? Here’s how I chose the setting for my latest series, The Not So Reluctant Detectives.
I left … No, that’s not quite right. I ran screaming away from my hometown at the age of seventeen and, except for a quick trip back to get my undergraduate degree, I haven’t looked back since. And, trust me, seventeen was a long time ago. Still, I tend to write novels that are set in my home state of Wisconsin. Why in the world would I do that? I’ve traveled extensively around the world and lived in several countries. Wouldn’t a novel be more exciting set in one of those foreign locations? Not exactly.
Writers are constantly advised to ‘write what you know’. While I’m not fully on board with this advice, it’s sound advice – for the most part. What everyone tends to forget, however, is that readers like to ‘read what they know’. Oh sure, there are plenty of novels set in exotic locales that make it big. Certainly, the romance genre favors Greek Islands or other some such romantic locale. But I write (mostly) mystery novels. A foreign locale such as The Hague or Istanbul doesn’t exactly lend itself to a cozy mystery as the legal structures are completely different. I don’t get into much depth with police procedurals and all that in my cozies, but I am a stickler for details. As I practiced law in the Netherlands for over a decade, I would definitely want to ensure all the nitty gritty legal stuff was correct. I’m fairly certain readers would sigh at their kindles before demanding a refund from Amazon if they were forced to read details about Holland’s criminal justice system.
I also feel that a cozy mystery set in the Netherlands would feel contrived. Just how exactly would that work? Would there be two English-speaking persons running around getting lost in translation? Or perhaps the main characters would be local Dutch women? In that case, the difference in culture would probably put people off. The whole idea does my head in!
I do have two novels that are set outside of the U.S., one in Holland and one in Turkey. These novels don’t sell nearly as well (and that’s an understatement!) as my other works. I’m not saying this is due entirely to their setting, but I assume it’s a factor.
That’s why I not only choose Milwaukee as the setting for my latest series, The Not So Reluctant Detectives, but will probably continue to set the majority of my novels in the U.S.