Your Fictional World Needs a Setting or Location

Characters and plot are essentials in creating a fictional world. But that world also needs a setting or location.

Location is as important in fiction as in real estate. Our characters don’t exist in a vacuum. They need a place, so to speak, to hang their hats. And readers expect a certain amount of reality in that setting.

The Sticks Hetrick series is set in Swatara Creek, Pennsylvania, a fictional town of my creation near Harrisburg, the state capitol. There is a Swatara Creek and even a township bearing the name, but the town is my invention. It’s representative of many of the older Susquehanna River towns which have become bedroom communities for the more metropolitan areas of the commonwealth.

The town, which sits on a promontory in a bend of the stream for which it’s named, owes its existence to one Jacob Koontz who acquired the site circa 1754 after immigrating from Germany. Koontz opened a tavern in a large limestone building which stands yet today on the square, though it now serves as the town’s municipal building, police station and library.

Like similar small towns initially dependent on agriculture, its economy was later stabilized by the addition of a shoe factory, a poultry plant and other small industries. Agreement on naming the town got near the fistfight stage after incorporation in 1958 until it was resolved with the compromise of naming the community for the creek.

Because Swatara Creek is my creation I was free to lay out the streets, describe the homes and other structures and develop businesses as I saw fit. In a review of “Something In Common,” the first novel in the series, Judy Clemens, author of the Grim Reaper and Stella Crown mysteries, said I did “…a wonderful job of bringing his fictional small Pennsylvania town to life by getting us into the minds of a multitude of characters.” Coming from a writer for whom I have great respect, I believe I did my homework on this one.

Save for “Practice To Deceive,” in which Sticks and his love interest, Anita Bailey, took a Caribbean cruise, all of the books have been set in the environs of Swatara Creek and the locale has become familiar to readers.

“A Burning Desire” is the sixth in the series.

The past comes back to haunt former police chief Daniel ‘Sticks’ Hetrick and his protégé, Officer Flora Vastine as an outbreak of arson shakes residents of rural Swatara Creek, Pennsylvania.
At first, the minor nature of the fires inclines authorities to see them as pranks, possibly the work of juveniles. Then, tension increases in the wake of a murder at the site of one fire and an increase in the value of targets.
Hetrick and Flora must confront troubling, dangerous people from the past, and errors in judgment add to their jeopardy.

To purchase books in the Hetrick series:

Other places to find J. R. Lindermuth:

Bio: The author of 13 novels and a non-fiction history, J. R. Lindermuth is a retired newspaper editor and currently serves as librarian of his county historical society where he assists patrons with genealogy and research. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers, EPIC and the Short Mystery Society. His two children and four grandsons do their best to keep him busy and out of trouble. When not writing, reading or occupied with family he likes to walk, draw, listen to music and learn something new everyday.


Welcome, John, so nice to have you visiting me today. Great advice in this post.
jrlindermuth said…
Thanks for hosting me, Marilyn. A pleasure to be here.
Lorna Collins - said…
John, I so agree with you about place and the importance of setting. Our mysteries are set in Hawaii, and we weave the culture into the stories. My romance anthologies take place in a fictional Colorado town. Over the five books, we've managed to create a place our readers want to visit.
jrlindermuth said…
Thanks, Lorna. I think we achieve our goal when readers start looking for our fictional places on the map. I'll bet lots of Marilyn's readers would love to visit Rocky Bluff.
Lesley Diehl said…
I so love mysteries set in small communities, especially communities that the author has invented such as yours. The reader immediately feels at home, making the solving of the crime personally important. Your series has it all.
jrlindermuth said…
Thanks,Lesley. And I can say the same about your series.
JoAnnAinsworth said…
I'm with you, John, on "learn something new every day". It keeps life exciting.

Loved the town's description. Since I grew up on the other end of PA, nearer Philadelphia, I could visualize the town as I read.
John, an interesting post that reminded me of when I taught genre fiction elements. I used to say that in a mystery sometimes the setting was akin to another character because of all it brought to the story. Thanks for sharing your town with us.
jrlindermuth said…
Thanks for stopping by, JoAnn and Sharon.

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