Monday, December 5, 2011

I've been on a bit of a Sherlock Holmes kick lately, and I recently finished The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. What a story! Definitely thrilling and mysterious. In considering what makes this story so terrifying, the setting stands out almost as a character in its own right. It's a living force that swallows victims whole and cries in the night. It's just downright creepy!

Below is an image from the Crime Scraps Review blog to set the mood:

So what can we learn from this story that will help us master the setting?
  • Force - The moor is a force to be reckoned with, especially the Grimpen Mire, where people and creatures can be sucked into the mud and never be seen again. (Oh, how I detest thoughts of quicksand and the like! *shudder*) Watson sees and hears a pony dying in the mire, and it certainly adds to the terror of the story - especially with characters on the hunt (or the run), and just one misstep can be very dangerous indeed... While some of us might not be writing mysteries or suspense, our settings in all our stories play a huge role. What challenges will the setting present to our characters? Think of Wild West stories and how the ruggedness of the land really creates a sense of adventure and/or hardship.
  • Fear - The moor leads to an emotional reaction in most of the characters, namely fear. The howling of the hound on those dark nights, the thrashing of the trees in the wind by Baskerville Hall, the one pinpoint of light or the silhouette of a man signalling a presence in the wilds of the moor... No matter the setting, if it's a good one it will elicit some emotion. Contentment at a cozy resort. Awe at the grandeur of the Rocky Mountains. Sorrow at the cemetery. Happiness at the beach. You get the idea! And the more senses involved in the descriptions the better!
  • Foundation - The moor gives the characters a place to hide, Sherlock a place to play ;) , and a stage for the mystery to unfold. While setting isn't everything, per se, it's important as it can either limit or expand the action of the story. Will your characters move during the course of the story? How does the contrast in settings fit in with the theme? Will your characters travel? Or does the setting serve as a trap for them?

Let's connect the past with the present! Where is your current WIP set? What can you learn from The Hound of the Baskervilles and the scary moor that might help you use setting to deepen your story?

And one last, very important question - anyone else excited to see this story in the second season of the PBS Masterpiece version of Sherlock coming in May 2012???

(Moor picture from Crime Scraps Review. Book picture from


  1. What a perfect example of using your setting to enhance the overall feel of your book!! Thank you, Amber.

    I hate to admit, I haven't been watching the Sherlock Holmes series on PBS. :-(

    It's a shame, really, because I always loved ready the books!!

  2. Lisa,

    Thank you! :) Since I'm doing my Personality Theory paper on Sherlock (from the PBS Masterpiece show), I decided this weekend would be a good time to read that Sherlock Holmes story I had sitting on my TBR stack. ;) I really enjoyed it - although that setting really was creepy!!

    And oh, Lisa, you haven't seen PBS Masterpiece's Sherlock??? I feel like Anne of Green Gables talking to Marilla about imagination... "Oh, Lisa, how much you miss!"

    But seriously, if you get a chance you should catch up on the first season (only 3 episodes, though they're all movie-length), and then join me in watching Season 2 when it airs in May!!! :D



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