Setting Stories in My Own Backyard

TuskersThis article is by Duncan McGeary.

I’ve never subscribed to the notion that one must “write about what you know.”

I mean, what do I know about a wild pig apocalypses?  Or vampires who evolve?  Or Donner Party werewolves?  Or Bigfoot and gold miners?

This stuff is spun out of my imagination, and even when I research, I like to have the basics correct while I allow my ingenuity to create the rest.

But I see no reason why I can’t set my stories in places I know, as much as possible.

My Vampire Evolution Trilogy is set in central Oregon and the far north California coast.  I thought it’d be interesting, for instance, to have vampires in a high desert setting with sunshine most of the year and very little cover.

The secondary location of Crescent City is the town I perhaps know second-best, after my hometown in Oregon.  My wife, Linda, grew up there and we visit it on a regular basis.  I love the beaches, and the wild undergrowth, and thought the darkness and damp would be an interesting place for a vampire to hide.

Tuskers is set in Arizona and Utah, but both locations are in the Great Basin, also known as the Great American Desert.  The high desert outside my hometown of Bend, Oregon is very similar to these places. This terrain takes up much of America, after all, but perhaps isn’t used in books or movies as often as it could be.

Drawing From Real-Life Examples

While I say I like to create as much as I can from my own imagination, that doesn’t mean I don’t like having a real-life examples right in front of me.  When I wrote my heroic fantasies years ago, I mirrored the journey’s in the books with the passes over the Cascade Mountains that I crossed regularly.  I’d stop every few miles and describe what I was seeing around me.

I find, for instance, that if I travel to a locale like the one I’m describing in my book, that I can sit and takes pages and pages of notes just from one spot.  And more pages of notes a short distance away. There are details that are just too good not to use, that my imagination simply couldn’t have contrived.

But most of all, I believe I’ve absorbed central Oregon in my bones.  I grew up here, and I returned here as soon as I could after college.  Even though my hometown has grown by ten times the population, the basic outline is still there.  I can ignore the rest if I want.  And the wilderness, Mt. Bachelor, the Three Sisters and Broken Top, the national forests, the Deschutes River, the high desert with its wonderful badlands, these remain pretty much the same.

That isn’t to say I don’t like visiting new places in my mind, or trying to evoke them out research and my imagination. But when I write about the land I know, I believe it comes through in ways I probably can’t even see.  The reader can pick up on that, I think.  They can tell when I really know and love a place.  It helps them believe, and if I can get them to believe the setting, maybe I can get them to believe the rest.

Even super-intelligent pigs on the rampage.

For Further Thought

Do you draw from real-life places when creating settings for your stories?  What are some locations that you’ve used for inspiration?

About the Author:

Duncan McGeary has owned Pegasus Books in downtown Bend, Oregon for the last 30 years.  He’s the author of numerous fantasies and historical horror novels, as well as the Vampire Evolution Trilogy.  His latest novel, TUSKERS, is available on Amazon.  Visit Duncan’s site at, and follow him on Facebook.

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Paula Herrera
Paula Herrera
7 years ago

I agree that we can write almost anything that comes out of our mind no matter how wild they will appear to others. We can choose any location but it is best to choose places where we already travelled or lived into. It will help us give great description and allow our imagination to flow more vividly. The places that we want for our stories can be relevant or not to our characters but our creativity will surely help us connect things better.

Horror stories really fascinated me even though I’m not a brave person. I just found the minds of their authors very creative and definitely out of this world.

Very interesting novel, Duncan!

Andrea Robinson
7 years ago

I think it’s perfectly acceptable to grow your fantasy reality right in your own back yard. I personally love to look at the swamp in mine and imagine my own pet alligator living there. But then, I’ve never been imaginative enough to visualize man-eating wild boars with brains enough for college degrees.

If you can gather material from scouting around the real world (and I think you have to), I’m all for it. On the other hand, I’m really in favor of using inner space and close-at-hand items as well. I suppose the delicious variety of writing styles comes from that unique interpretation of all inputs that a writer gets.

I personally use real life most of the time. It’s just a little stranger than fiction.


Heather Smith
Heather Smith
7 years ago

I think it’s so important for writers to GET OUT! We need to experience things so that we can write about them–after all that’s what writing is about. I feel like I often get trapped at home in front of my computer wondering why I can’t think of anything to write or why I can’t come up with vivid descriptions and then I realize I haven’t been out in while. I believe that the more we do, travel, experience, the better writers we become.

7 years ago

I try to use geographic terrain I know from my highschool classes and want the geographic reality of my fantasy world to grow in it’s immersion through a presence of reality. That isn’t to say I don’t want fantastic elements present also, I like magic in fantasy or illusion, some kind of mystifying “art” and for that if there has ever been a time and place, then it also requires one so that realistic immersion I’m aiming for is supposed to provide the undergrowth for the fantasy. I’ve used “historical locations”, flash freezes in time to inspire my culture and geographic sense in the stories I’ve written. I also like to create mood with immediate location, using urban settings and the environment they create to hide an assassin for instance. I find developing that skill is enhanced by writing small snippets of situations. These to me area all locations.

Anne Marie Gazzolo
7 years ago

I am currently collecting pictures on Pinterest that I want to use in future books, either as places to actually visit or visuals to inspire imaginary places. Fun, fun!

Reply to  Anne Marie Gazzolo
7 years ago

I do that as well! Most scenes in my novels are inspired by real life!

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