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  • [Reality Check] How to Create a Fictional Setting by Michelle Gwynn Jones
This blog was featured on 02/15/2020
[Reality Check] How to Create a Fictional Setting by Michelle Gwynn Jones
Written by
Zetta Brown
February 2020
Written by
Zetta Brown
February 2020

* This post was originally published in December 2015.


I read many manuscripts where very little detail or description is given. I think many authors are (mistakenly) told that readers don't want too many details because they don't want to have things dictated to them. Readers want to use their imagination to fill in the blanks.

That's bunk. While too much detail and description can bog down the pace of a story, the reader still needs adequate description to frame the story.

Setting seems to suffer the most from this kind of treatment. Inadequate attention to setting can confuse your reader, and if left too long, by the time a detail is given, it could go against what the reader has been forced to imagine. There's nothing more disappointing than having your expectations dashed.

Michelle Gwynn Jones provides some good tips to help you create your story's setting from scratch. She has created an entire community and has done something quite creative to draw the reader into the setting. It was what Michelle did with regard to her setting that made me ask her to be a guest because I think more authors could benefit. Read on and find out what she's done.

How to Create a Fictional Setting
By Michelle Gwynn Jones


When I first started writing fiction, with the intent to accomplish a novel other people would want to read, I was uncommitted as to a setting for my story. Born and raised on Long Island, I was very familiar with NYC and thought that would be a good backdrop for my story. After writing a few chapters I realized I wanted my character, an attorney, and the story to have a more relaxed pace. I decided on suburban South Carolina for no other reason than that is where I was living at the time. Originally, I picked my hometown; wouldn’t it be nice to put it on the literary map? Sure it would.

Then I decided my novel could be the first in a series. I have what I think are some great ideas for storylines, but with a main character being a defense attorney, I found that there were a lot of bad police officers/deputies, improper procedures and all around good ol’ fashion corruption. I had to rethink my setting. If it were a large city like Los Angeles, Houston, or Chicago, with tens of thousands of law enforcement officers, no one would ever think “they’re all corrupt.” But a small town could give people the wrong impression. Maybe this wasn’t the wisest way for my hometown to be put on the literary map. A fictional setting was the best way to go.

The greatest advantage to creating a fictional setting is that the writer is not limited by the “realties” of a real location. Since no one is familiar with it, you don’t have to worry about the reader catching that a person can’t stand on the corner of 5th Avenue and Broadway in Manhattan, or that the address given to a particular building in Galveston would put it in the Gulf of Mexico. Real locations require personal knowledge or research in order to keep it “real.”

Fictional locations give the writer the freedom to create almost any landscape they choose. Of course there are limitations. If you want your reader to believe in your setting, you need to be realistic. The reader is not going to buy your locations if you say that the character watched the sunset over the Pacific Ocean from his back porch in Colorado (unless your story includes a drastic change to the US coastline or your character has some really cool super-vision). My town is in the center of the state of South Carolina, so having my character manage the local ski resort or run whale watching tours that leave from his dock are pretty much out of the question. Anchoring my setting to what I see every day keeps it realistic.

Deciding what to call my town was not so easy.

Since I write mysteries, there are bank robbers, arsonists, and murderers with a sprinkling of paranormal activities and the occult thrown in for good measure. So names like Chaos Cove and Mayhem Mills came to mind, however they weren’t what I wanted to portray. My town is full of kind, hardworking, and righteous people. Many of my characters are happily minding their own business when their world blows up around them. That wouldn’t be depicted in a town called Sorrow Sands.

I knew I wanted the name to evoke a picture of suburbia with fenced in yards to keep the dogs in not the neighbors out, and the homes are decorated for Christmas, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day. No one should think con people are abundant and predators lurk around every corner. The name should be something angelic, peaceful, and serene. Something like, I don’t know … New Grace.

I truly enjoy creating my own setting. It gives me the ability to grow my location as I do all my other characters. What started out as just a couple of buildings and a few streets for my characters to travel on has turned into a small city and seven towns, all in New Grace County: population 250,000.

What I like best about creating my own town is that no matter what story a character appears in, they can enjoy time on Sabine Lake or in one of two rivers; they can ride horses in the Kinderly State Park or head over to Lindley for the Arts and Craft Festival. They all know Crete has the best Baklava; you go to The Castaways for a burger; and both of the main characters in my Rachel Shorte and Reese Millridge series have their own reasons for loving Alexandro’s besides the great Italian food. Everyone listens to WNGN  - 105.7 and reads New Grace News. And you can read it too.

Although the town is fictional and the characters are faux, the people of New Grace like to keep informed. Their local paper covers the crime scene to the art scene and everything in between. For them it is a daily paper, but for non-faux like me, and maybe you, it comes in a bi-weekly Sunday Edition. You can pick up the latest edition and peruse the archives at NewGraceNews.com.

If you love to write, like I do, you too must set your story in some location, real or fictional. What do you prefer?


Michelle Gwynn Jones is the founder of the imaginary New Grace, South Carolina; a small community of beautiful vistas, interesting people and scandal, mayhem and murder. New Grace News, covers the lighthearted residents and uncovers the darkness in peaceful suburbia.

If you are a reader who enjoys short stories then New Grace News is for you. Pick up the latest edition at NewGraceNews.com, grab yourself a glass of kickin’ iced tea and see what storm is brewing.

©2015. Zetta Brown. All Rights Reserved. Zetta is an editor and the author of several published short stories and the erotic romance novel Messalina: Devourer of Men. She provides services through JimandZetta.com.

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  • Zetta Brown

    Hi Rebecca!

    I'm with you. Sometimes writers get caught up in all the dos and don'ts that their creativity suffers--or worse, their enthusiasm for writing dies. There's nothing wrong with writing what you want to read or writing to a formula as long as you're enjoying it.

    Lately, a lot of the things I've edited have skimped on setting and description because either they think--or have been told--such info is fluff. It's not fluff and can (and should) be used to add dimension to the story.

  • Rebecca Ferrell Porter

    Excellent post. I heartily agree. When I began writing, I was told to brutally cut nearly all descriptive passages. I'm proud to say, I ignored said advice. I write books I would want to read. I want do more than step into the skin of the characters. I want to walk beside them, smell the musty odors of the forest litter, and admire the golden halos forming around the flowers in the meadow. My novels are not set in a town, but it is a real place. A meadow from here and a river from two counties over. It all pulls together under a new name. 

  • Karen A Szklany Writing

    Great idea!  ~:0)  Happy New Year!