It’s all in the details, by Kait Carson

I’ve been reading a lot of books lately with an eye to scene and setting. As a writer, that’s a hard balance to achieve, as a reader, well, badly done details can create sonic booms as the book hits the wall.

Christopher Booker, yes, the Booker of the Booker Prize, opined there were only seven basic plots and from these plots, all stories are written. I suggest the list narrows if you’re a genre writer. So, how do you set your take apart from others? Easy, and hard, it’s in the details.

Keys waterI write two series, one set in the Florida Keys, and the other in Miami. Tropical South Florida. Cool…but how do I differentiate my murder mysteries from any of zillion others set in Kansas or Katmandu, or even from each other? Details! All murder mysteries have a villain, a victim, and a sleuth. Mine operate in steamy subtropical of Florida. I have to bring the reader into the setting, but not beat them over the head with the heat!

I like to do it by making setting a character on its own. The Florida Keys, known for reefs Hurricane Dennisand wrecks, conch, and tropical fish. Days of endless sun and unforgiving storms, Hemmingway, fishing and Jimmy Buffet. Miami, once known for cocaine cowboys and Miami Vice, now known for Latin American investors, a burgeoning economy, drugs (some things never change), the Cuban influence, and a place where you can reinvent yourself. These elements set my stories apart from other mysteries and from each other. The question and the problem become how to convey each setting naturally.

The writer doesn’t want to start every scene with a weather report, or a restatement of the obvious, so how to texture a story to bring the reader into the setting and scene without stating the obvious? Detail! Hayden may finish off a meal with Key Lime Pie, orkey lime pie order yellowtail snapper for her main course. She dives for Florida lobster, a/k/a crawfish, and she complains about the tourists and shares her view of how to spot them (shorts and socks with sandals in the middle of a Keys winter). The diamond reflection of the sun on the water tells the reader that Hayden is in a dive boat. The wrecks and the reefs add authenticity to her story.

Azucar cafeCatherine is in a more difficult situation. Miami has become a metropolitan city. It’s as close to New York as it is to the South. How then do details work in her story? She orders café con leche, or a cafecito from a storefront window. Her dinner of choice might include ropa veija and her friends are an international mix of Cuban, American, and Haitian. Like all Floridians, Catherine complains about the traffic and the drivers. Her city is a mix of extremely wealthy and poor. Very little middle class. She pays tribute to the farms in the Redlands and the homes on Star Island. Catherine is cosmopolitan, with a little bit of country.

In writing, and in life, it’s all in the details.LIfeguard station

Readers what are your favorite details and how do they set the scene?

Writers, how do you infuse details into your stories?

Keys Water by stingrea1; Key Lime Pie by rj_sinder; Hurricane Dennis by 12019; Lifeguard station by Zopalic courtesy of Pixabay

Cafe Azucar by Infrogmation of New Orleans courtesy of Creative Commons


Author: kaitcarson

I write mysteries set in South Florida. The Hayden Kent series is set in the Florida Keys. Hayden is a SCUBA diving paralegal who keeps finding bodies. Underwater, no one can hear you scream! Catherine Swope is a Miami Realtor with a penchant for finding bodies in the darndest places. I live in an airpark in Fort Denaud, FL with my husband, five cats, and a flock of conures. And oh yes, a Piper Cherokee 6 in the hangar!

27 thoughts on “It’s all in the details, by Kait Carson”

  1. I enjoyed reading your blog post, Kait. I love Florida; I don’t live there, but vacationed there several times. I write a mystery series with each book set in a different historic hotel in a different city or town. I bring in details of each location: restaurants, bars, parks, quirky characters who live there. Researching the stories is a load of fun, since it requires I spend time in each place.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Now you are on my TBR. Those books sound right up my reading alley! The research is brilliant. Have you set one at the Baltimore in Coral Gables yet? Or the Casa Marina in Key West? I’ve been told the Biltmore is haunted and Douglas Fairbanks and Mary Pickford stayed in the Casa Marina often.


  2. Detail, but not too much. I’ve read books that went on and on and ON about the furniture in the room, leaving me weeping and wailing in boredom. As with everything, it’s a balancing act, but it looks like you have it mastered!

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks, Becky. I agree. The detail needs to be part of the story, not the story. The term nuance keeps coming to mind, but I know that’s not the right term. Perhaps detail applied with a light hand.


  3. I read for those details of setting. I want to feel that I’m there, so I don’t need a detailed description of objects. It’s more important to see how a character interacts with the setting. Sounds like you’ve got it mastered!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Great post, Kait! Setting is a particular struggle for me. I tend to write the dialogue first, then dive into characters – and the setting is kind of a character for me. Finding that subtle balance, applying that deft hand so that there’s enough setting to provide a feel, but not so much that a reader will skim – it’s tough. I’ve started to revise with a mind toward each sense separately. One re-read looking for sight, then sound, and so on. It takes longer, and I suspect I will become more efficient, but for now, it seems to be working for me.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That’s a great plan. I do the same, but in a different way. I read aloud and see what I see. A writer friend told me she does it too, but she gets the most out of having her computer read to her. She says the almost monotone voice shows her what pops. I’m afraid I’d fall asleep!


  5. It was a dark and stormy night. I sat alone in the errie darkness of the gloomy mansion perched high atop the treacherous cliffs overlooking the angry waters of Minuet Bay. They dying fire stuggled, yet still offered the faintest breath of warmth; but the cold crept incessantly through the weeping stone walls. I knew it would soon envelop me in its chilling embrace. All hope was gone, for this night was forever.
    Yes, it was the darkest and stormiest of nights. . . .
    Just funning around! Wonderful post, Kait! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I probably talk too much about the weather, but because my blog is about walking, the weather plays an important part in my blog post. I like to start my post when I leave the house and do a tour of where I’m going and then back … so the reader feels like he was along for the same walk I took.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I use a photographer occasionally in my blog posts – she told me to use as many pictures to paint a picture of where I was … kind of like who, what, where, when, why and how. This photographer (Jill Wellington) was a newspaper reporter before she left that vocation and now is a portrait photographer.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. You know Kait – I believe it does. I get to the Park where I walk all the time, and immediately, while enjoying my walk, I can feel the gears churning in my brain, as I start thinking what I’m going to mention in my next blog post.

        A bird that is tweeting in a tree, is not just simple birdsong to me, but instead becomes a red-winged blackbird trilling away in a tall tree with bare branches silhouetted against a gloomy sky. I do think you see things in a different light when you write about those same items. For example, I don’t just see a layer of ice on the Creek, I see a thin veil of ice that looks like when pudding starts to get a “skin” on it when air or the fridge makes that happen. I’ll bet you do too. So I do think we notice more things that way than you would see, if you were merely “traveling through” and giving it a cursory glance.

        Liked by 1 person

  8. I think details are like backstory. Both are important. Both build a sense of the character or the place. But both should be treated like special seasoning. Without it your sauce is flat and uninteresting. With too much, you take one sip and push the bowl away.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I enjoy books that have that great sense of place. As far as I’m concerned (as a reader) I want the setting to be as vivid and developed as the characters; it makes a better book.


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