Story Settings: From Abandoned Centralia to Byberry Mental Hospital

Higher resolution photograph of the Route 61 c...

Route 61 crack, in Centralia PA. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Every writer has his or her favorite locations for setting stories. Nicholas Sparks likes North Carolina. Stephen King favors Maine. Dean Koontz stories often frequent California. Usually, it’s where we live and what we know. We’re familiar with the flora and fauna, the dialect of the people, the quirkiness of the area, and lay of the geography. We can describe it in detail and bring it to life for the reader because for us it is alive. It’s part of our life, part of who we are.

But sometimes we go outside our comfort zone and set a story in a location we’re not intimately familiar with. That can be a wonderful challenge.

For me, I like the southern Pennsylvania/northern Maryland region. Southern PA has lots of rolling hills and wooded areas, farm land, small towns, country folk (read The Hunted and Darkness Follows). And Northern MD has some of the creepiest woods I’ve ever been in (as in Darlington Woods).

With my most recent book (Frantic) I explored a new region, Maine.

Setting is just as important to the story as the plot and characters. It sets the tone, adds depth and texture to the story. It’s the skeleton upon which everything else hangs.

So with that in mind, here’s a list of locations where I’d love to set a story.

  • Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. Many of the people there are descendents of the first settlers to inhabit the island in the 1600s. They live off the bay and enjoy a quaint, sheltered life.
  • The deep woods of Maine. Dark, mysterious, those seeking adventure enter and never return.
  • Centralia, PA. An abandoned town sitting atop a maze of coal mine shafts that continuously burn and smolder. Steam rises through cracks in the asphalt roads, houses tilt precariously.
  • The Byberry Mental Hospital. An abandoned asylum outside Philadelphia. You haven’t seen creepy until you’ve seen this place.
  • Anywhere in Appalachia. Fascinating people, culture, lifestyles. Very colorful and lots to work with there.

I have a story idea in mind for Centralia and one day I’ll write it. In fact, I plan on calling it just that, Centralia. And it’s in the works . . .

Question: So help me out, what are some other locations that would make a great setting for a suspense/thriller story?

About mikedellosso

Mike Dellosso is an author of wide-eyed suspense. He writes stories that not only entertain but enlighten.

Posted on July 23, 2012, in Writing craft and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 16 Comments.

  1. I’ll have to get The Hunted and Darkness Follows. I have family roots in southern Pennsylvania, and at first view it seems idyllic, not frightening. Anyplace with woods can be frightening though. I’ve created an imaginary town in south central Missouri for my stories. Have you read Stephen King’s The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon? Not a horror story, but a sweet – and scary – story about a little girl’s inventive way to find her way out of the woods on the Appalachian Trail.
    How about the eerieness of deserted deserts – New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, Nevada.


  2. The St. Louis street above ground cemetery in New Orleans would make a good setting plus the added benefit of using the whole city.

    I saw a show a month or so ago about the Winchester Mystery House located in San Jose, CA. It has staircases going to nothing and all sorts of strange rooms.

    If you wanted to go outside the states, what about Transylvania or Paris catacombs? Definitely creepy.


    • Ooh, I like the St. Louis St. idea. And that mystery house is freaky 🙂


      • If you used the St. Louis idea, you could have your main character either going to or somehow attached to the seminary in New Orleans. That could make for a nice good vs evil sort of story.


    • I’ve seen the Winchester House. It is said that if one were taken blindfolded to the center of it, it would take days to find your way out. Doesn’t seem possible, but that’s how many blind spots and turns there are. The widow Winchester felt so much guilt about the rifle being a weapon of destruction, she ordered the construction so that she’d always hear the sounds of a hammer (considered productive rather than destructive) as long as she lived.


  3. Pelican Lake/Rhinelander, WI. The northwoods. Beautiful area with an attached folklore of the beast known as the Hodag.


    • John, I’ll have to check out the Hodag. Sounds interesting.


      • It has interesting history attached to its creation coming from the logging industry that was there, but it is kind of hokey in the end. He’s been a mascot of that area for years, the high school team’s namesake in Rhinelander, but a battle developed between the Upper Peninsula and Wisconsin in the late 80’s/early 90’s as to who actually owned it. Wisconsin gladly won. Lock up your white bulldogs lol.


  4. I don’t have any ideas to add to your list, they’re all great and should be used. 🙂 But the topic reminds me of an idea I had for a thriller set in an old insane asylum. It was inspired by an institution in Bolivar, TN…. Hm, I think I need to hunt down my notes on that now.


  5. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area in northern MN. We’ve had an escaped convict up there and an injured bear that attacked people, all while my hb and son were up there on diff occasions. Without a compass and map, anything can happen.


  6. The Florida keys are a beautiful place with rich Florida history, beautiful sunsets and possibly a crazy killer or two you could throw in the mix. The keys have great fishing as well.
    Also Suwanne county In northern Florida has the Suwanne river state park with lots of woods, trails, a civil war graveyard with spiders crawling all over the tombstones ( no lie, I was scared out of my mind) and the Suwanne river that is a nice rootbeer brown and natural springs. The town is almost like a time capsule with country people who are very kind but you know you wouldn’t want to be on their bad side. There is a little trucker quick store restaurant called Falmouth Crossing right by the train tracks that serve some neat food, the ladies that worked there that saved my life seven years ago after a heat stoke. Great place my family owns five acres there that we hope to one day live on.
    Hope this helps 🙂
    Josh Rollins


  7. Hell, Michigan in Livingston County


  1. Pingback: Settings for Your Stories | C.T. Westing

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