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Crime: The scene of the crime

Pay attention to the setting of your crime novel, says Claire McGowan. Location can influence plots, characters, and criminal activities.

Where is your crime novel set? This may seem like an arbitrary decision, but it’s worth thinking about it before you start writing. Will it take place in London and the South-East, like so many novels, or somewhere more unusual? There’s always been a strong tradition of Scottish crime writing, for example, and in recent years we’ve also seen the emergence of Northern noir and Emerald noir (time for Welsh noir next?) Do you want to write about crimes in remote, small communities, or about the grit of city streets? Do you want to conjure a place you know, or somewhere you wish you knew? Done well, the setting can become an integral part of the work – think of how Broadchurch cleverly used the Dorset coastline. Also think about who your characters are – frustrated Home Counties commuters, or tough independent farmers? Where do they belong? Do you want to take your readers somewhere they’ve never been, or hold a mirror up to their lives? Asking these questions before you start will help you use setting consciously, rather than opting for the place you currently live as a default. An interesting and vivid setting may be the element that sells your book.

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