Published March 23, 2023 by Brigids Gate Press, LLC A family's relocation looked like a chance to relax and regroup—but as they settle i...

Guest Post || Making A Setting Feel Real (Even If It’s Not) by Ben Monroe

Published March 23, 2023 by Brigids Gate Press, LLC

A family's relocation looked like a chance to relax and regroup—but as they settle into their new home, teenage Kimmie Barnes’ special senses make her the target of something primordial, evil, and utterly malign.


Golden Oaks, California is a sleepy town on the shores of Oro Lake,
and the residents have no idea what horrors lurk below the glittering waters.

Beneath the waves…

One by one, as people begin to disappear,
the once quiet town is soon in the grips of a waking nightmare.
An unimaginable horror consuming everything before it.


All while echoes of an ancient evil spread out like malignant spider webs,
like dead hands reaching, grasping…


Making A Setting Feel Real (Even If It’s Not) by ben Monroe

When I wrote The Seething, one of the things I really wanted to do was make the small town setting of Oro Lake, California seem real. While the town is completely a figment of my imagination (though inspired by a few real towns), I felt it was vital to the story to make it seem like a real place, like somewhere readers could visit. Somewhere that felt like it had existed in that place for a long time, and had a history of its own, and that The Seething was perhaps only one of the stories taking place there. As the characters are traveling there, I gave pretty specific directions about their drive, noting the highway numbers, side streets, road signs, etc. Of course, it was all completely made up.

This is something I often consider when writing any of my stories, honestly. Most of what I write is set in the modern world, rather than a strange fantasy kingdom, or a science fiction galaxy far, far away. And while it might seem relatively easy to create a sense of place in the familiar confines of the here and now, there’s still a bit of thinking that must be done to get that feeling across to the reader.

In order to create the sense of a real place, I think are the three key elements to include in a setting: Names, Backstories, and Connections.

Name Everything You Can

This is pretty simple, but really helps to sell a setting as real. Characters don’t just drive along the road looking for a place to eat. They drive down “Hawford Lane, on the way to Farley’s Diner.” Any time you have the opportunity to give something a name, do it (and for goodness sake, make a note of it somewhere so you don’t forget!). This is especially helpful when making up locations for your story. Naming streets, stores, buildings, etc., gives the reader a sense that they’re reading about real places.

And don’t just reserve this for places; naming objects also helps. Don’t be generic if you can get away with it. Tell the readers that the maniac is chasing the teenagers with a Stihl chainsaw, or a Craftsman hammer. 

What Happened Here Before?

This is the Backstory of a place I mentioned earlier. Not every named location in a story needs to have a fully-detailed backstory. But whenever possible, enough of them should have anecdotes applied to them that the reader gets the sense that the setting has been around for a while. People might remember stories about a thing that happened in a specific place, even if it’s not immediately relevant to the overall plot of the story. 

Maybe the movie theater in town used to be a bingo parlor 50 years ago, and some of the older folks in town have fond memories of it. Or the grocery store changed owners recently, and people still sometimes call it by the original name. Or maybe just something as simple as a character mentioning having a fond or funny memory of a specific place (“It’s down past the liquor store on East 14th. You remember? The one where Frank tripped that one time when we was kids, and dumped a slushee all down the front of his shirt.”)

Make Some Connections

Connecting places to each other via characters or character dialogue is another way to make your setting feel like a real place. In The Seething, I have a scene where a character is talking to a waitress at the Get Up & Go Diner downtown. He’s asking about somewhere in town to get his phone repaired, and she happened to know that the local hardware store recently hired a guy to do small tech repairs.

In making this simple connection I was able to move the plot forward, as well as reinforce the feeling of a small town atmosphere. The “everybody knows everyone” sort of feeling I was going for in the setting.

One last thing...

I also like to blend real-world elements and the fabrications together. There’s a lot of stuff about Oro Lake (and the nearby town of Golden Oaks) which was completely made up. But I connected some of those elements to real world things like Roosevelt’s WPA projects, which readers will recognize. Thus blending the real with the false I blurred the lines between the two, helping to make the town seem like a real place.

Picture of author Ben Monroe
Ben Monroe has spent most of his life in Northern California, where he lives in the East Bay Area with his wife and two children. He is the author of In the Belly of the Beast and Other Tales of Cthulhu Wars, The Seething (coming in 2023 from Brigids Gate
Press), the graphic novel Planet Apocalypse, and short stories in several anthologies.

His latest story “the Patchwork Man” appears in Blood In the Soil, Terror On the Wind from Brigids Gate Press. You can find more information about him and his work at