1. Drstrong
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    Drstrong Active Member

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    Better to set in real life city/state or fictional?

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Drstrong, Mar 21, 2013.

    I've been struggling with this recently, I feel as if there could be bias towards a real life place in a story, but a detachment from a fictional place.

    I've written one story which has a real life city, around where I grew up, and I find myself trying to remember the landscape from that city to paint a picture in the story. I'm not sure if I should keep going this route, or make everything up from scratch so that no one has a point of reference.
     
  2. Madman
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    Madman Active Member

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    Depends on how realistic you want the story. If realism isn't a concern, just make things up. Otherwise either visit the city again, or study photos of it.
    You can also check out Google Earth.
     
  3. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is a question that comes up consistently. You can do either one. You can also set it in a real place, but keep it anonymous. That way you could add places that don't really exist, but you want in the story. Some people like to emphasize the setting -- almost making the city like a character. For others, it's not so important. It really depends on what you want to do.
     
  4. Drstrong
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    Drstrong Active Member

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    In what I'm writing, I like to "paint the picture", as corny as that sounds. I'd much rather say street names and city names rather than being vague, or referring to streets as "the street". Does that make sense?
     
  5. iolair
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    iolair Active Member

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    I've found Google Street View really handy to check/remember details of real locations.

    To be honest, I don't think it makes much odds - you can make either way work; just a choice for your personal taste and style.
     
  6. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    The short answer is that you go with what feels right to you. There is no "should" or "shouldn't". But I don't think that gets to the heart of what you are looking for.

    Settings add flavor to a story, whether they are real or fictional (the settings, that is). In most cases, even if you are using a real city, you are creating fictional settings within that city. It might be a fictional neighborhood, or building, or apartment, but at some level, you have to start making stuff up.

    My very first novel was set in a fictional town on Long Island, but it was an amalgam of several towns I knew, one of which I had lived in for several years. I did it that way because there were certain features that resonated for me with certain plot points - one of the MCs grew up during the Depression living in an apartment over a delicatessen. I could picture it perfectly in my mind, because I knew where the delicatessen was in the town in which I had lived, the main street it was on, how far it was from the train station in one direction and how far it was from a church in the other. As it happened, the delicatessen I had in mind and the row of stores of which it was a part didn't have apartments on the upper floors, but other storefront buildings in town did, so it wasn't hard to imagine. And what I pictured in my head as the church was in reality a high school. But these adjustments were easy once I had the basic setting in mind.

    OTOH, one of my incomplete projects was a dystopian novel, set a few hundred years in the future, much of it in New York City. In it, I used very specific locations, but pictured after centuries of decay. The History Channel's series, "The World After People", was extremely helpful in my visualization process.

    My current project is a historical, so the settings I use are as real as I can make them, considering I'm writing about a place I've never been to and cannot visit. Naturally, I've done an exhaustive amount of research, and since none of my story takes place in the location at the present time, I'm probably not losing that much by not having been there. The present-period segment of the story is set in New York (naturally).

    The most important thing about setting, whether fictional or real, is to not let it take over your writing. When writing about a place you love, it's tempting to describe everything loving detail. And, the opposite danger is that you may make offhand references that locals would understand but others would not. The key, I think, to making a setting work for you is to include just enough to make the reader who has never been there feel as if (s)he has, without bogging down the story. And, of course, that means capturing the flavor of the place, not just the physical appearance. Hence, Google Earth is good for some things, but it's not the whole process.

    Hope this helps.
     
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  7. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    ditto that!
     
  8. cswillson
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    cswillson Member

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    If you use a real city/place get it right or a publisher will pass on it. Be correct for the period, too. Cities change, so consult contemporary sources of the time you are writing about.
     
  9. Drstrong
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    Drstrong Active Member

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    Thanks for the feedback, I think I will go the completely fictional route, or not mention city names what so ever.
     
  10. Suffering-is-Beauty
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    Suffering-is-Beauty Member

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    A benefit to using a fictional place is that all cities are in essence the same. streets and buildings, so if you stay away from particulars the reader will place them in the city of their choosing. If your correctly vague enough the character could live anywhere.
     
  11. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    This could be a positive or a negative. Sometimes you want to instill the feeling of a place. Frequently people will say, after having read a book set in a particular place, "Now I want to go vist [place]" Places will also influence people in events (sometimes in a manner relevant to the story, sometimes not) by things such as weather, transportation, cultural events, educational opportunities, ethnic make-up, restaurants and food available, etc.

    Being devoutly Jewish, for example, is different in New York City from what it is in Alabama. Other things are obviously different, as well. Again, sometimes these things are important to the story, and sometimes they aren't. It all depends on what you are writing.
     
  12. Drstrong
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    Drstrong Active Member

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    Doesn't Stephen King mainly take place in Maine? I don't know of people complaining about his location details.
     
  13. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    king's settings are fictional towns supposedly in maine, not real places... so there's nothing to complain about... plus, he's a lifelong downeaster, so he can make them believable...
     
  14. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    I have this problem myself. I come from a small town in Canada that people might know, and then again might have to Google
    to learn about. I usually invoke something of the small town into my stories - the ones that contain a small town but half the time I
    try to keep place ( not setting ) vague. This can work for you or against you. I used to read a lot of teen romances growing
    up and I remember how authors tried to get away with describing a nameless southern town by throwing in - I kid you
    not - ice tea on the porch, off the shoulder dresses, the phrase I declare and magnolia trees. It felt so cliche, and tired
    I wished the author had just used her own town instead of forcing an 'exotic' location.
    So for me I think the place doesn't have to be real or named - as long as you get the details right.
     
  15. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    I have two towns that i use for my writing projects, for my western stories the setting is austin texas and for my other stories i use a town in indiana but i don't use that town's actual name i use a fictional name that i created in my own head.
     

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