Creating a Setting, or: Lying for a living

Fiction writers have a choice with their setting: Invent it from scratch, or use an already existing location. For instance, many stories are set in New York City. But if a character standing northwest of the Statue of Liberty remarks on the beauty of the statue’s face, you’d better be prepared for some nasty letters from New Yorkers who know Lady Liberty faces the other way.

Or, you can do what I did: Have your cake and eat it, too. Mine has traditional chocolate frosting, thank you. In Storm Chaser, most of the characters live in the tiny – and fictional – town of Hurricane, Indiana. However, the location of the town is a real place, about three miles from my home in Albion. You can drive to the actual spot of Hurricane Books and Bait, and wonder at the empty fields.

For Coming Attractions, I paid tribute to the drive-in where I went as a kid: the Hi Vue. No, not by designing the one in my book after it: That’s based loosely on the Auburn-Garrett drive-in, several miles further from my home and still in operation. Instead, I took the city of Kendallville, Indiana, pulled it from its foundations, and placed it on top of the Hi Vue’s former location.

Not literally, mind you.

It wasn’t much of a move, since the Hi Vue was only a few miles south. I needed a community big enough to support the drive-in, a coffee shop, and a hotel, and Kendallville qualified. But I didn’t want to use the actual city, because I was too lazy to obsess over exact locations and because the coffee shop itself is fictional, and would have ended up in someone’s real store. (I could have put it in the same spot as Summer’s Stories bookstore, which carries Storm Chaser … but it’s for the best that I didn’t, as they’ve moved since then.)

So I created a new city, and honestly only used the vague layout of Kendallville’s main streets as a guideline. What to call it? Not far away is a road, and its name seemed to encapsulate the story’s ideas: The idea that faith, hope, and hard work can be rewarded.

And so was born the little city of Hopewell, Indiana.

Next: the characters. Actually, that’s next right after you pop over to Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest to pull that daily voting lever for Coming Attractions:


  1. Yeah. I made up places in my novel, too. It happens. Its much more fun to write a whopper.

    1. Absolutely -- that might be the most fun part of writing!

  2. I went for real places, and obsessed about detail, poring over photographs, asking questions...

    1. The right way to do it ... but whenever I use something real I still stress out that I'm missing some detail that will be important to someone.