5 Hints for Creating a Fictional Setting

Right now, I’m working on a project that takes place in Georgia in the 1930s.

CG Larson
CG Larson

This excerpt is about Culver Park, a place in fictional Cochransboro, Georgia.

I’ve been thinking about setting a lot. In the past, when I’ve written, my setting tends to be a real place. For example, West Chester, PA; or Houston, Texas. Lucky for me, I’ve lived in both of those places so I can easily draw on my experiences to create the setting.

In my most recent projects, however, I’m doing things a little different. Instead of having their settings take place in very specific, true locations, I’m creating non-fictional towns and places.

Of course, if a story takes place in New York City, you can’t really substitute New York City. The same goes for other big cities and distinct places. However, if I’m writing a story that takes place in a generic smallish town, I’ll make a fictional town.

The town of this story (from which I took the excerpt – I still don’t have a name for the story) is Cochransboro, Georgia. Here are a few easy steps for creating a fictional setting. Note – this may not be applicable to futuristic or fantasy stories.

5 Hints for Creating a Fictional Setting

  1. Know something about the general location. For example, I know a little bit about Georgia. I have been there a few times. Though I haven’t lived there, I have had many experiences in the south (including Arkansas and North Carolina). It is best if you have lived in the location – as you will now many details about plants, animals, landscape, etc.
  2. Utilize Google Maps You will want to do this for several reasons. When I created Cochransboro, GA, I didn’t have a name for it, nor did I have a location for it – other than Georgia. Because I’m only vaguely familiar with Georgia, I had to look at the map. Even if you are very familiar with a state or area where you imagine your fictional location to be, I suggest looking at a map.
  3. Determine a relatively specific place for your location. In creating Cochransboro, there were a few things that I knew it had to be. My main character runs away from Cochransboro and to Atlanta. He is a 16 year old boy. I wanted the location to be about a day’s walk away from Atlanta. Or at least the suburbs of Atlanta. So, I looked all around the area. Eventually, I determined that Cochransboro would be 12 miles east of Devry, Georgia. (Devry is a suburb of Atlanta). I knew that Devry had a streetcar, and that my main character could conceivably walk 12 miles in one day, then catch a streetcar from Devry into Atlanta.

    It might sound strange, but it was helpful for me to create this idea of a specific location so that I would know exactly where my character was traveling. It helped for me to know that Grandpa Hal (the main character), would be walking west to get to Devry then to Atlanta. Understanding these details helped me maintain continuity later on.

  4. Look at place names in the surrounding area. I think that the most difficult part of creating a fictional place is creating the name of the place. You want it to sound right. Again, google maps is an incredibly helpful tool here.

    Simply zoom in and start looking at the names of towns, streets, counties, etc. You will get a feel for the names. Then, it become easier to name the town.

    I can’t remember the moment I came up with Cochransboro. There are common suffixes to places: -ville, -town, -boro, etc. I experimented with other names, then came up with Cochransboro. It felt right. It was right. I feel like Cochransboro, Georgia sounds like a place that would exist. (And it does – in my story!)

  5. Spend a lot of time describing the setting. Keep in mind, you probably will not include this in your text. But describing the setting will help you to understand it. You will then be able to determine what is necessary for the reader to know. Just remember that if you don’t have an intimate understanding of your setting, you will never be able to express it very well to the audience.

What are some of the tricks you use when creating a setting?

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