I just read recently about gothic romance on another writer's blog. Now, I'm no romance writer or reader, but something she said stood out.
Is it just me or has atmosphere and setting suffered from the lean-and-mean definition of suspense? I have the impression that a supportive setting has become a largely irrelevant tool in tales of woman in peril.
It's not just happening in romance, and it's not just setting. Every element should speak to the story. It makes for good writing, and darn it, good writing is just more interesting.
For instance, one of your characters has a tattoo. Don't you want to know what that tattoo is about? It could be a basic descriptor--she's the type of girl who has one. (You know the type.) Or, it could be an identifying mark when she dies. Or it could reference a history--an event--that informs her current situation. Which is more interesting?
I don't think I'm so different from other readers. I like to feel like I got my money's worth (or time's worth) when I read a story. I like when every element, from plot devices to setting to character descriptors, supports a story. It makes me think. It makes me feel. After all, even in real life, nearly everything from our own past speaks to who we are today.