Creating a Hybrid Setting

As we continue to follow through the year “The Journey of a Book”, how a book moves from inspiration to publication, this month’s theme is all about that most overlooked literary element, the setting. To kick off our theme, Penny Frost McGinnis is back to describe creating a hybrid setting, which means incorporating imagination with a real setting. Thanks so much for coming back, Penny!

For me—setting is another character in the story. 

In my Abbott Island series, the place where my characters live is based on and inspired by beautiful Kelleys Island, Ohio. In creating Abbott Island, I’ve taken some poetic license to add places and events, but the inspiration comes from the people and places on the little island in Lake Erie.

My husband and I had visited Kelleys Island a few times when the idea struck to set the story I had mulling in my mind on an island similar to the one I was standing on. The natural setting of parks, hiking trails, and water appealed to me and drew me there. As we hiked the alvar, the state park, and random trails across the island, it drew me in more and more. The beaches and water sports tugged at me. Where better to set the stories of the folks who inhabited my island? 

As I shaped and shifted Abbott Island to fit my characters’ stories, I imagined the activities they could partake in (which included actual events on Kelleys Island.) I inserted the real with the imagined creating a world my characters loved, to the point where the setting felt like a character.

In using a real island as inspiration, I had to be careful to honor the original place. Nothing I wrote should mar Kelleys Island. I changed the name of the island, added new businesses, renamed current businesses, kept a few of the prominent ones, and referred to a few I left unnamed. 

I incorporated the alvar, a unique natural phenomenon that occurs in a few places in Ohio in book two of the series, Home Away from Home, along with a kayak rental we used. The woman who owned the kayak booth became inspiration for Marigold in book two. She no longer runs the rental in real life, but I met her nieces and told them how she had inspired me. 

However you choose to create a setting, look for inspiration, do your research, and honor the place you choose. Pick a setting you want to spend time in, because you’ll live there while you write your books.

A few tips if you are inspired by an actual place:

  • Follow their social media
    • Facebook
    • Instagram
    • Twitter
  • Read books about the place
    • History
    • Current
  • Visit in person, if possible 
    • Take lots of photos
    • Talk to the locals
    • Experience events and activities
  • Connect to the library
    • Research

I often look for books to read that have a setting I enjoy. I’m drawn to books on the east coast, islands, and small towns. Readers are often looking for a place to go and relax, like a vacation. Create a place your readers love. Happy writing!

Thank you for the great tips on how to use real world settings to inspire imaginary ones. To read Penny’s previous guest post, click here. Be sure to check out Penny’s newest release below!


Home Away From Home: Abbott Island series book #2

Will Marigold and Johnny embrace love late in life?

When Marigold Hayes turned fourteen, her mother died, and her father went missing. For forty years, she has searched for her dad and lived a quiet life on Abbott Island, until she met Johnny. As her love for Johnny grows, her sorrow from the relentless search for her father breaks her heart. She begs God to help her move forward with her life before she has no love left to give. Then three mysterious strangers show up who could change her life.

Johnny Papadakis moved to Abbott Island ten years ago. His ex-wife had pushed him away and discouraged him from having a relationship with their daughter. After years of hard work, his restaurant flourishes, so does his relationship with Marigold. As he seeks Marigold’s hand in marriage, his daughter shows up on his doorstep, looking for a place to call home. 

Can Marigold and Johnny settle the past and move toward the promise of a blessed future?


If Penny Frost McGinnis could live in a lighthouse or on an island, she would. Instead, she and her husband are content to live in southwest Ohio and visit Lake Erie every chance they get. She loves God, adores her family and dog, indulges in dark chocolate, creates fiber arts, and enjoys watching baseball. She pens romance with a dash of mystery and the promise of hope. Her life’s goal is to encourage and uplift through her writing. 

Connect with Penny at her website, FB author page, Twitter, Goodreads, Bookbub, and Pinterest

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