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Writing Advice & Discussion > Using 'real' settings instead of made up ones

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message 1: by Brae (new)

Brae Gil | 20 comments Hello everyone!

Just curious what others opinions are on setting a story in a real existing place vs a made up one?

For example, I am considered setting my contemporary romance in an actual small country town in Southern Illinois, but I have also considered inventing a small country town in the same area.

What have you done? And if you care to share your reasons why you chose that I'd be most interested.

Thanks,
Brae


message 2: by Lexie (new)

Lexie | 3 comments In my opinion it is easier to have creative control over all of it. Have you been to the real town you would like to use? If not, it may be hard to write extensively about it. I prefer inventing settings, much cleaner and easier :)


message 3: by A.C. (new)

A.C. Melody (acmelody) | 8 comments I agree with Lexie, and I usually do pick a region or state and then set the story in a fictional town to cut down on research. But I also use real places you can't really mess with, like Vegas or NYC, then I just research it like crazy and keep most of the detailed scenes in a fictional house or building instead.

All in all, I think it's what you picture in your mind the most, so if you can fully imagine your fictional town already, I say go with it. :)


message 4: by Jessica (new)

Jessica | 115 comments In your case, I would suggest using a real town, because small towns are actually really hard to make feel real! Small towns have a huge history that you'll have to make up and execute, which can be exhausting. Presumably you know the real small town, s that'll cut out a bunch of leg work. Cities, on the other hand, are pretty similar, so it's easier to make them up. Hope this helps!


message 5: by Alex (new)

Alex (asato) Pick your poison. ^_-

As the saying goes, write what you know. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area and that's where I place my stories, for now; however, I still use google maps and research on the web. I'm writing near-future sci-fi and horror. For fantasy (which you're not writing) and far-future sci-fi, you just need to invent it.

But, you know, it's whatever gets you fired up to write and how it fits into the story that you have so far. Furthermore, a lot of the information about the locale is going to be background material that you won't need to put into your story.


message 6: by Brae (new)

Brae Gil | 20 comments I think I'm going to go with a real town. Yes, I've been there and know it well.
But I will note it for my Beta readers and see if they feel the setting is serving the story best.
Thanks for all your thoughts everyone!


message 7: by Lin (new)

Lin | 213 comments Mod
My tip: just don't base it on a real place and then twist the facts. I've just read a book that was supposedly set in my home town, yet there was fact after fact that showed the author didn't know the place, or was twisting facts to suit her (from minor details: walking through a dimly lit ticket office at the railway station at midnight - actually they lock the office around 6, and everyone has to go out the side gate; to major details: there's no big hospital with emergency facilities here, only a small cottage hospital that deals mainly with elderly patients; geographical details were dodgy too, with cliffs and rocks that moved, building sandcastles on a shingle beach...).
So if you're going to use a real, named town that people would recognise, just make it accurate!


message 8: by Leland (new)

Leland | 31 comments I would prefer a made up location to reading about NYC for example from someone who either never lived there or failed to the correct research. If you have lived in the place you're writing about, go ahead and write about it. Otherwise, I wouldn't. Or you can write about a place in the far future where your inconsistencies can be twisted to your will.


message 9: by Michael (new)

Michael Lewis (mll1013) | 30 comments I'm going to throw a wrench in the thread... I actually prefer real places over made up ones, because it makes the story more plausible, and therefore engages the reader more. At least, that's what I find.

I recently read an apocalyptic novel that was set in the southwest of the US. The fact that it occurred in a real location made me think that maybe the events could really happen some day.


message 10: by Alex (new)

Alex | 136 comments I would suggest using a real town, but giving it a fictional name. You can then make changes to the town if it helps your story, and no one's the wiser (unless it's your hometown, then the people you grew up with will give you a hard time).


message 11: by Leland (last edited Jan 25, 2017 10:53AM) (new)

Leland | 31 comments Michael wrote: "I'm going to throw a wrench in the thread... I actually prefer real places over made up ones, because it makes the story more plausible, and therefore engages the reader more. At least, that's what..."
I could see the appeal of that in certain genres. Though I mostly read sci-fi and fantasy, in that case, I would probably want the author to go all the way into bizarre and crazy. But then again I don't have to suspend my belief for those genres. When I ever pick up those books, it's already turned off.


message 12: by Stan (new)

Stan Morris (morriss003) | 140 comments Alex wrote: "I would suggest using a real town, but giving it a fictional name. You can then make changes to the town if it helps your story, and no one's the wiser (unless it's your hometown, then the people y..."

This is a good idea. Eric Flint Eric Flint used a real small city in West Virginia as the basis for Grantville, the city in his 1632 series. 1632


message 13: by Sandy (new)

Sandy Frediani Don't ever think readers won't catch when the facts are wrong. A long time ago - like 25 years - I read a book which had spinning wheels in Ireland in the 800s AD. The earliest spinning wheel shows up in Germany in the mid to late 1400s. I haven't read anything by that author since. An ebook I recently finished had a wildfire in Alaska during a blizzard, snow rat-a-tat-tatting and thud-thudding against a window and India to the right of Myanmar and Thailand. I doubt the author intended it to be a comedy, but I was laughing every time I came across one of these.

When an author is careless with facts, I wonder what else they're careless with. Even fantasy has to have a believable world.


message 14: by Alex (new)

Alex | 136 comments Sandy wrote: "Don't ever think readers won't catch when the facts are wrong. A long time ago - like 25 years - I read a book which had spinning wheels in Ireland in the 800s AD. The earliest spinning wheel shows..."

Good point, Sandy. An author has to be very clever when he hasn't done his research.


message 15: by Steele (new)

Steele | 4 comments I agree with Sandy. Minor details I can understand, sometimes you need to twist things a little; like the times for the train station, better to be accurate, but most readers won't catch it. But "snow rat-a-tat-tatting and thud-thudding against a window", did they mean sleet? Those are huge details, that a lot of people would catch.

It can happen in movies too. The Superman movie (the first with Henry Cavill), completely took me out of the story world when they showed all these people running for cover from a tornado under a highway overpass. The tornado would suck them out; if you got all the way up to the top and held on for dear life, you might be okay, but just standing underneath, not a chance. I don't live in Kansas but I do live in "Tornado Alley", and I can't imagine people living in Kansas wouldn't know this; another place that doesn't have tornadoes regularly and aren't warned on the news every spring, okay, but Kansas? It took me completely out of the movie, and then I started noticing other plot holes. . .

Sorry, for getting so winded, the Superman thing was a big pet peeve of mine. Anyway, this is a great discussion, and is reminding me to be careful with details in my own writing. :)


message 16: by Sandy (last edited Jan 29, 2017 10:47AM) (new)

Sandy Frediani Steele wrote: "I agree with Sandy. Minor details I can understand, sometimes you need to twist things a little; like the times for the train station, better to be accurate, but most readers won't catch it. But "snow rat-a-tat-tatting and thud-thudding against a window", did they mean sleet?"

Perhaps the author did, but the book said snow. As a reader - if the author says snow, they mean snow. If they meant sleet, then say sleet. If you don't know the difference, then look it up. Research. The internet makes research SO much easier these days. Readers take the author at their word. And don't count on not finding the ONE reader out there who'll catch you. They will.


message 17: by Michael (last edited Jan 29, 2017 10:58AM) (new)

Michael Lewis (mll1013) | 30 comments Sandy wrote: "Steele wrote: "I agree with Sandy. Minor details I can understand, sometimes you need to twist things a little; like the times for the train station, better to be accurate, but most readers won't c..."

I think what the poster was trying to point out is that the sound being made against the window (rat-a-tat-tatting and thud-thudding) is incongruous with snow. Sleet, hail, and ice would be more likely to make those sounds, but snow is too soft to make sounds like that against a window. That is why the reader is unable to "take the author at their word" which is why she now has to try to interpret what the author meant.


message 18: by Philip (new)

Philip (phenweb) Google maps and satellite view is your friend. Simple check for opening times unless it's critical to the story to change something. Of course when I write sci-fi I can make anything up


message 19: by Brae (new)

Brae Gil | 20 comments Fantastic comments everyone, thank you very much!


message 20: by Sandy (new)

Sandy Frediani I have to add to this that I recently finished an ebook which happened to have scenes taking place in my old "stomping grounds" and it was wonderful. The author got the highways correct, the town correct, the approximate time driving from a major metropolis correct. The bed and breakfast the main characters spent time at was fictional, but everything else was spot on. So it can work.


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1632 (other topics)

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Eric Flint (other topics)