Fiction Prompts Based on Stranger-Than-Fiction Locations
From a spacecraft cemetery in the Pacific Ocean to a poison garden, find inspiration in these weird real-life locales
Electric Lit relies on contributions from our readers to help make literature more exciting, relevant, and inclusive. Please support our work by becoming a member today, or making a one-time donation here.
Setting is a crucial aspect of any story; it affects tone, language, stakes, movement—basically every part of a story is determined, at least in part, by its setting. Naturally, we thought that compiling a list of weird and wild real-life locations would offer a lot of inspiration to any writers feeling stuck in one place. Since most of us are stuck at home, why not explore some of the more compelling corners of the world in your writing?
It’s criminal how few castles have been built to close a gateway to hell and keep demons trapped in a bottomless pit so they can’t enter our world and reap chaos. Luckily for everyone, Houska Castle in the Czech Republic is doing its sacred duty of protecting mankind from a deep hole that’s reportedly a gateway to hell. According to legend, horrific demons used to crawl from the hole somewhat regularly, the Nazis practiced occult experiments at the castle, and one man who was lowered into the hole was brought back up minutes later only to have aged thirty years. This creepy castle is the perfect setting for a novel about a castle guard who falls in love with one of the demons and begins studying dark magic to win the creature’s affections.
This quaint little town in upstate New York seems like an ordinary, peaceful New England destination, but in reality it’s the center of Spiritualist culture and community. The town is populated by mediums, healers, and people who simply prefer the company of ghosts. This novel could follow an old woman trying to connect with the ghost of her dead daughter and gain the relationship they never had in life. Of course, this plan would be complicated by the daughter being dead and by everyone else in town being a nosy medium with a lot of misguided, if well-intentioned, advice to give.
Everyone loves a haunted forest, and no forest is more haunted than Hoia-Baciu. The trees grow in strange shapes: curves, arcs, and clockwise spirals that can’t be explained by scientists. There’s a perfectly oval clearing where nothing grows, and nothing has ever grown (again, scientists don’t know why). There are reports of ghosts, many missing people, and even UFOs. Basically, this forest is the platonic ideal of spooky forests. You could write pretty much anything about this place, but one good idea is a novel told in two slowly converging perspectives: one of a young man from modern times who has become obsessed with the forest, and another of a young man from the past who’s deathly afraid of the place for a very specific reason.
From one dark, remote, unexplored world to another: there’s a remote location in the southern Pacific Ocean, the point furthest from any land, where spacecraft that no longer function are sunk to the depths of the ocean. I literally can’t believe people don’t talk about this more. This location is begging to be made into a sci-fi novel about a post-apocalyptic world in which divers stumble upon the cemetery and falsely believe the earth was once colonized by an alien race, and these aliens must be stopped before they come out of hiding and rise again.
Madame Sherri was a Broadway costume designer and New York City socialite who, after her husband’s death, built an enormous mansion in the woods of New Hampshire so she could throw parties for her friends (as one does). After Madame Sherri died, her house burned down, and now all that’s left of it is a curving stone staircase deep in the forest. This location would be perfect for a novel about a young woman lost in the forest at night, who stumbles upon a mansion where a party is in full swing and all the guests seem to be from another time. The woman slowly realizes that the mansion only exists at night, and she must solve the mystery of what happened at the final party before she becomes trapped in a ghostly soiree forever.
Spite houses are usually extreme examples of pettiness, but there’s a little more going on with one particular spite house in Sarajevo. When the Austro-Hungarian government tried to colonize Bosnia and Herzegovina, part of their plan was to build a beautiful new city hall in Sarajevo. Enter: an old man. This Bosnian man’s house was part of the proposed city hall site, but he refused to sell his home, no matter how much money he was offered. In the end, he only agreed to give up his land when the government promised to move his house, brick by brick, and rebuild it exactly on the other side of the river. According to legend, the old man sat on the bridge between his old and new land every day in order to oversee the rebuilding of his house. For this story, perhaps write a novel about a forgetful man slowly regaining memories of his life as he watches all his belongings pass across the bridge in front of him.
In the Alnwick Poison Garden, the phrase “stop and smell the roses” is a direct threat, as the plants in this garden are all poisonous; some of them are strong enough to kill through touch or smell alone. So who would live in a castle with such a poisonous garden? A woman who wants to keep everyone at a great distance because she was forced to leave the only woman she ever loved to marry a man she had never met. Luckily he died mysteriously early in their marriage, but she keeps the garden in order to isolate herself while she mourns the lost love she fears she’ll never find again.
Though most abandoned towns and buildings end up as lifeless, crumbling grey slabs of rock or concrete, Houtouwan went a different direction. This abandoned Chinese fishing village is deserted but certainly not dead, as its houses and streets are all covered in a thick layer of bright green vegetation. The entire hillside where the village rests has turned from a bustling village to a lush natural wonder, a verdant hill shrouded in ocean mist. Obviously, this means that during full moons the greenery shivers to life and the village fills with people made from grass. We’re imagining a short story collection about the moss-people who inhabit the village, with each story covering the daily life of a different moss-person.
Have you read the Warriors series? Okay, think of that but with pigs who swim. Feral pigs have taken over a small island in the Bahamas, and they love swimming around in the clear, blue water and stealing food from tourists (the pigs can and will jump into boats in shallow areas). This story could be told as a long-running children’s series about the interactions between the different pig clans on the island, or a speculative novel about the pigs forming a closed society on the island, gaining both language skills and mechanical knowledge, stealing a boat from the tourists, and going out into the world to spread their knowledge and dogmas to all the other pigs in the world.