A mystery story needs a mysterious setting. A combination of the unfamiliar, the partially glimpsed, and the slightly strange should do the trick.
Location is the first thing most people think about in connection to a story’s setting, and it’s certainly an important element.
Any location can be mysterious if it is unfamiliar to the character. Where there’s also the possibility of becoming lost and ending up in an unexpected place, there is an added sense of mystery.
Buildings partially hidden from view by surrounding trees may stir up curiosity. And in a forest, almost anything can be hiding in the trees.
Vacant places also work well. If you’re wondering where everyone is, you’re already in the mystery-solving mindset.
Location isn’t the only element that can add a little mystery, though. Time is a useful factor. Setting a book in a time period readers may not be very familiar with, can be a great way to add a sense of mystery. But stories set in the present can make use of time, too, by including night-time scenes. While it’s easy to see what’s happening during the day, it’s not as easy to work out what’s going on when you are literally in the dark.
The local wildlife can contribute, too. My current work is set in Costa Rica so I have a wide choice of wild animals to add to the atmosphere. Creatures that are hard to spot, as well as animals you can hear but not see, act as reminders there are things going on you don’t know about.
The weather is another way to add the feeling you don’t quite have all the pieces of the puzzle.
An eerie fog or drifting cloud obscuring the view of whatever the characters are heading towards, can convey a feeling of uncertainty, particularly if they start to lose sight of other people.
It is the plot that holds the enigmatic puzzle to be unravelled. But if you look hard enough, you may find a little mystery in the background of every scene.
Deborah Grant-Dudley is the author of The Lost Castle, a mystery for readers aged 11 and over, available in paperback and Kindle edition on Amazon. Look out for The Lost Plantation, coming soon.