April 29, 2016

Fact of Fiction -- Choosing Your Setting

By Leeann Betts

So you have a great idea for a book. You’ve done some character sketches. You know where the story is going. The only thing that’s left, apart from the writing, is to decide where to set your book.

Your hometown? No, too many people know you there. That little town where you went on vacation last year? You loved the soda shop, the green grocer’s on the corner, the barber with the cool twirling red, white, and blue sign. And what about the man at the post office? All the stories he told you about bank robbers and--wait a second. Was the main street through town called Main Street? Too boring. You want a street name that goes with the title of your book. Something more literary, more foreshadowing.

Scrap that town.

But wait a minute. Maybe not. Maybe that town is perfect. Except for the Main Street thing. And the fact that Pelican Lane--perfectly aligned with your book’s character arc, by the way--runs the wrong direction.

What’s a writer to do?

Simple. Do what you do best. Make up a town. Sure, draw from this town that you liked so well. But give it a new name. And while you’re at it, maybe it needs to be in another state.

I choose to set all my books in fictional towns for a couple of reasons. I don’t want to be constrained by what a real setting would be, and I like to make things up.

Blame it on the writer in me.

Here’s how I come up with the name of a town:
  1. I look at my book and my title and come up with something that goes with it. For example, in my latest Carly Turnquist mystery, Five and Twenty Blackbirds, Carly and Mike are at Mike’s college reunion in Raven Valley, AZ. The college team mascot is a blackbird, so Raven Valley was pretty close.
  2. I checked to make sure there wasn’t a Raven Valley, AZ by searching on the Internet.
  3. I looked at towns near my desired setting and saw how they were laid out. I did this by some actual visits to the area, and you can also go on Google Maps and look at the Earth View of addresses in the real town.
So go ahead. Put on your thinking cap. And make up a town. Or a city. Or an entire world.
Leeann Betts writes contemporary suspense, while her real-life persona, Donna Schlachter, pens historical suspense. No Accounting for Murder and There Was a Crooked Man, books 1 and 2 in her By the Numbers series, released in the fall of 2015. Book 3, Unbalanced, released in January. Book 4, Five and Twenty Blackbirds, is released in April, with more planned for later dates. If you like accountants or are an accountant, check out Counting the Days: a 21-day devotional for accountants, bookkeepers, and financial folk. Leeann and Donna have penned a book on writing, Nuggets of Writing Gold, and Donna has published a book of short stories, Second Chances and Second Cups. You can follow Leeann at and Donna at  All books are available at in digital and print, and at in digital.

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