This week: Nature's Mysterious PlacesEdited by: Arakun the Twisted Raccoon
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Quote for the week: Science cannot solve the ultimate mystery of nature. And that is because, in the last analysis, we ourselves are a part of the mystery that we are trying to solve.
Mystery stories often take place in familiar places, such as bustling cities, comfortable suburbs, and peaceful small towns. In these stories, the characters, readers, and even the writers feel safe until an unfamiliar threat invades their safe environment. You have probably been advised to "write what you know", which is usually good advice. However, in this newsletter, I am going to ask you to step out of your comfort zone and set your story in uncharted territory.
Thanks to modern technology and global travel, humans have visited almost all parts of the globe. However the earth still has a few secrets. Relatively unexplored and uninhabited natural places still exist. Scientists are learning more about these places all the time, but they still have tons to learn. If you set your story in one of these places, the setting itself will help create the mystery:
Tropical rain forest: The tropical rain forest of South America is the most diverse ecosystem on earth, with possibly thousands of species yet to be discovered. Your characters may find a plant that cures cancer or a spider with a deadly, untraceable poison.
Caves: Even the experts do not know how many miles of caverns wind and twist their way through the earth. Scientists are just beginning to explore Sun Donng Cavern in Vietnam, which contains the largest known cave chamber. Even caves that were discovered years ago, such as Jewel Cave in South Dakota, still have many miles of unexplored passages. Cave explorers must be strong, physically fit, and not too big. Large or tall people have difficulty crawling through narrow twisting passageways. Around the next bend, they might find a new chamber with beautiful formations. Or they may find out they aren't the first people here after all, and the cave is being used by drug smugglers, or...
Ocean bottom: At the bottom of the sea, your characters may search for shipwrecks, sunken treasure, or strange life forms that flourish around deep ocean vents. It also may be a good place to hide (or find) a body!
The far north: Any place that is dark for half the year is a great setting for a mystery. If your characters can brave the cold and snow, they may find gold or oil or study tundra life or climate change. Or they may disappear on a dark, cold night and never be seen again.
Desert: Many people think of deserts as barren areas, but some deserts are filed with specialized animals and plants that have adapted to dry conditions. A desert is defined by lack of moisture, not temperature, so some deserts are cold at least part of the year. Shifting sand may totally cover evidence of a crime, or a flash flood may wash up a skeleton that has been buried for years.
If you use one of these settings, you may not be able to draw all your characters from central casting for a mystery story. Many will be scientists, such as biologists, geologists, climatologists, and medical researchers. Others might be treasure hunters, explorers, prospectors, or thrill seekers. There may not be a real detective or police officer among them, and they may be too far from populated areas to contact the authorities. Make sure and include actual inhabitants of areas such as the rain forest, Arctic, or desert, and do research to keep everything authentic. If nothing else, you will learn about the biology, culture, and history of the area.
Something to try: Write a mystery story set in an unusual, unfamiliar setting. If you live near a unique natural setting like those described above, your unfamiliar setting might be a city or town!
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