Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

Giving her the heebie-jeebies #amwriting #mystery


The unit I’m working on in my writing class has to do with setting, how it can become more than just a backdrop or stage for the story. The words you use to describe the setting also contribute to the atmosphere or “feel” of the story. Think Edgar Allan Poe. When you read his stuff, notice the descriptive words he uses. For example, here are the first few sentences of “The Fall of the House of Usher”:

Β DURING the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of Usher. I know not how it was –but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible.

No sunshine and rainbows and unicorns there. Just that little bit will call clouds to rain on a parade. For comparison, I use the first page of Where the Crawdads Sing, which I’m almost finished with. I like it, but it’s a bit slow. The descriptions are really some of the best parts of the book. Delia Owens makes the marsh a character in the story:


There is so much atmosphere here that the reader has the sense of standing out in the marsh and experiencing some sort of transcendence. And notice the personification of the swamp. The setting should get co-star billing in this.

Back to my homework. My current assignment (*aside to my writing teacher*Β yes, I am working on it πŸ˜€ ) is to take a character and put them into a setting that makes them uncomfortable. And they can’t leave the setting during the scene.

See where the heebie-jeebies comes in? Part of the task is to decide whether to use a scene that’s already written, or write a new scene. I haven’t quite hit the part of the story where this comes into play.

It’s one thing to put a character into someplace unfamiliar; that’s almost like cheating, because any unfamiliar place can make a person uncomfortable. Discomfort can range anywhere from that lost feeling one can get in a huge parking ramp at the airport to the goose-pimply spooky feeling when you wander into an old house at night to get out of the rain … and the door slams shut behind you (and yes, for all those Supernatural fans, I’m counting the days until the last season premiere!).

But that’s too easy, right? Okay, how about the ol’ “fish out of water” trick? Take a yuppie and drop her in the woods miles from civilization (and you know she’s wearing heels, because they always do), or take the farm-raised nature kid and make them find their way through Times Square at rush hour.

Eh, still too easy. The point of taking the class, besides to get my butt in gear on Book 2, is to exercise my author muscles and build a great story. So, if anyone has read my book, you know that my main character had a stalker about six years before the book starts. She’s worked hard to overcome that visceral fear of being followed, and she’s conquered that fear.

Or has she? *rubs hands together and cackles*. So I will put her in a place where she learned to be comfortable again once her stalker was put in prison. And make sure she thinks someone is following her. That’ll make her squirm.

Think about a place you are comfortable, like the library, or the gym, or the coffee shop. Now, think about being in that place when a massive storm moves in, and there’s a weird creepy guy who has been staring at you for the past hour. The lights go out! Thunder crashes. Something brushes against you. In the next flash of lightning the creepy guy isn’t where he was–he’s gone. And you can’t leave. Mwahahahahaha!

Yes, this example is dripping with cliche, and I now have a scary movie script started πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ πŸ˜€ It’s all about using the setting to affect the character in a way that bumps up the tension in the story.

I’ll be trying to catch up on reading blogs and doing my homework this weekend. Hope you get some writing time in, too!

zoey chair

Hey, you’re not taking my picture, are you?

Author: Julie Holmes, author

A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for over a decade, I have been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. My debut novel, "Murder in Plane Sight", has been released by Camel Press (an imprint of Coffeetown Press/Epicenter Press). In real life, I am a technical writer and empty-nester with a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), one dog, five chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

20 thoughts on “Giving her the heebie-jeebies #amwriting #mystery

  1. There’s no doubt in my mind that setting can add a lot to a story. And it really can become a character in itself. It’s almost as though the setting has a personality all its own. To me, it takes talent for an author to do that, Julie, and I’m glad your class is covering that topic.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. The right setting and atmosphere adds much to a story. I like where you’re going with the example and look forward to your next book.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I appreciate what you are saying here, Julie. The setting for a book is important. I have never read The fall of the house of Usher. I should remedy that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. A trick I use is Google Earth. I can walk down a street with my character, stand in front of a building with other visitors, or even enter quite a few buildings. It’s amazingly effective!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Ooh-shee-boo-booo, Zoe-Zoe! Sorry. I always have to get that out of the way.
    That creepy scenario totally did it for me. I was practically wetting myself and trying to remember exactly where the free weights were located so I could use one as a weapon. Actually, just the bar would do. Bring him on, the bastard! πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great examples, and I like the assignment. πŸ™‚ Tone and mood are so important to setting and can intensify a characters disquiet. Have fun and Happy Writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What a fun assignment. I love working with the setting and scary:) Yes, waiting for Supernatural to start but at same time wish it wasn’t ending.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I hear ya, I wish it wasn’t the last season either, but I’m not sure how much more material they can use. I mean, once you do the whole apocalypse thing (multiple times, no less), not much more territory to cover. Except aliens.

      Have a great week, Denise!

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I’m a huge fan of setting and love working it into my books. When I read (or write) a book, I love to be immersed in surroundings.
    Where the Crawdad Sings is a great example of the setting becoming a character. Also, an excellent book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I love the settings in all of your books. It really helps me get into the story. And Where the Crawdads Sing is one of the best examples I’ve read lately of setting becoming a character. I like the book, but it’s a bit of a slow read for me. I love the way Owens describes things.

      Have a great rest of your week, Mae!


  9. Pingback: Week In Review – Joan Hall

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s