1. Viridian
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    Viridian Contributing Member Supporter

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    Keep it real or make it up?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Viridian, Jun 23, 2015.

    I'm using a small village in England as the base for my story. I've never been to this place so everything I know about it is via the internet (which is actually quite a lot). My question is, should I keep it real as much as possible, i.e. if the characters visit a shop/pub, walk down a street etc, should I use the real names - or do you think its acceptable to make them up. Certain places will definitely be made up (house names mostly i.e. [ ] manor or [ ] cottage), so should I perhaps create my own village?

    I would prefer to keep with the actual village, it feels right to me and it already has a similar kind of history that will be portrayed in my story. What do you think?
     
  2. sashawrites
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    sashawrites Member

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    I think you kind of have to be careful with this sort of thing. This is coming from someone who has lived in a small English village most of her life! Villagers can give one of two reactions: horror or happiness. As long as the village isn't portrayed negatively the latter is the more likely reaction. I would be fairly annoyed if my village was portrayed to be full of horrible people, but if you're portraying it nicely or so so (like with some bad people) then it should be alright. I would look up the village on local news sites to see if anything bad has happened like disputes just so it doesn't look like you have based real events or people from that!

    Also I would fake street names just in case of an adverse reaction.

    Personally, I think creating your own village and basing it upon the one you've researched is better. This gives you more scope for creativity but again, who says you can't edit the current village to your story?

    But yeah, I don't see a problem with it, just be wary!
     
  3. Chewie
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    Chewie Member

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    Depends on what the story is about as you don't want to write a murder mystery and then find out that a murder happened in the village recently. I would research a few villages around the area as there may be something which works in one village for your plot which isn't in the other and create your own.

    But then for the realism give it a defined location 20 minutes train ride for Reading, 5 minute drive from Bath for example.
     
  4. Aled James Taylor
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    Aled James Taylor Contributing Member Contributor

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    The All Creatures Great and Small stories by James Herriot are set in the fictional town of Darrowby, which is based on the real towns of Sowerby and Thirsk.

    I'd be inclined to invent a fictional location that is typical in character to a real place.
     
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  5. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    BONUS:

    When James Herriot's boss (Siegfried in the book) found out about this, he told Herriot of the book, "...This is a true test of our friendship."

    I've long since forgotten the source of this quote, but that's what I've read. It just goes to show you that even if you make it up, the savviest of the bunch will figure out what you really mean.
     
  6. AlcoholicWolf
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    AlcoholicWolf Contributing Member

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    Could always go for a name that sounds incredibly similar to the village you're using...
     
  7. izzybot
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    izzybot Human Disaster Contributor

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    If it feels right I'd say go for it. Just be careful about your accuracy - obviously certain things need to be embellished, but I remember when my mom read a book set in our hometown that described it as not even having a theater and how angry she got. "We had three theaters when this was written!" Hahah. Err on the side of, yknow, not insulting the place.

    I've written about a fictionalized version of my hometown with a changed name. In my head it looks just like the place, I just didn't want to tie it to a real location so that I could be more creative, maybe burn it to the ground at some point, yknow, whatever strikes my fancy. But if it helps you / the story to have a real place to anchor your story to, why not?
     
  8. GuardianWynn
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    GuardianWynn Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think your goal matters a lot here and how much you have to commit to it.

    I assume you want to use proper terms to make it real. Would proper terms confuse modern readers? If so does turning away those readers bother you?

    How much research can you do/ are you willing to do? You might find that certain little details are incredible hard to find. Or looking them all up is incredible tedous.

    My personal? I like to do enough research to sound right. I figure an common reader isn't going to realize you are wrong on the points you are wrong. Sure they can research. So I would go as far as you want into keeping it real. But if you do aim to keep it real if you fail to at some points I would try to still sound real. That way no one is off put by it.

    Does that help?
     
  9. Viridian
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    Viridian Contributing Member Supporter

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    Great advice. Thanks guys. After reading all these I've decided to stay with the general area but use a fictional village.:superagree:
     
  10. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Hoo, boy. If it's a small village, I'd use the one you researched as a model, but rename it with a fictional name. (And make sure the name IS fictional ...run it through a google search first.)

    You can use real cities in fiction, as long as you do a reasonable amount of research, and just throw in a fake street or two, but try to do that with a small town or village? I think you're asking for big trouble. I'm trying to think of authors who set their stories in real small towns—and you know, I can't think of ANY, unless it's their own home town or a town they know well, because they either live there or have visited frequently.

    It's a dangerous quagmire you're stepping into, and it's not really worth it. However, if you do your research well, and then name your village something fictional, somebody who knows semi-rural England will say 'wow, she's really got a feel for the place!'
     
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  11. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Just a thought on the name...try to ensure that your made-up name comes from the same linguistic stock (see @Aled James Taylor 's example above where Herriott used the same Norse -by suffix) because if it's set in Yorkshire but with an Anglo-saxon name such as you might find in the West Midlands, it'll stick out.

    My favourite example of such mixed roots was one author who stated that Penkridge means "the head of the ridge" because Pen means head in Welsh. But this is about forty miles from Wales, and is actually a bridge across the river Penk...
     
  12. Viridian
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    Viridian Contributing Member Supporter

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    This is what I've been doing since I decided on a fictional name but would you believe every name I've come up with so far is already a small English village! Much harder than I thought it would be.

    Yeah I was just reading back on that comment. I'm currently trying to come up with something using that idea that I like AND isn't already taken.

    Thanks guys :)
     
  13. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I am always a bit perplexed by the concern about using a setting of an existing village and worrying about offending the locals of that village. Just how many people are possibly going to be offended? If I write: "I rode the elevator to the top of the Sears Tower in New York City," then I would expect to be called out on it. Unless your small village is very well known for some reason only a tiny amount of people will likely know if your description missed the mark. I would think using a fictitious name is prudent.
     
  14. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Some people don't mind mistakes like this; others do mind. If people don't mind, or notice, fair enough. However, if you make lots of 'mistakes' and people find out about them, then you risk people dismissing your writing as badly-researched rubbish. The fact that only a few people will notice a mistake in a small-town setting is offset by whether or not they make their disapproval public or not. If somebody writes a review on Amazon saying "I actually was born and live in Little Chipping Whatsits, and I can assure you this author hasn't got a clue ...and then lists all the 'mistakes' you've made"...? Not good. It makes you look like a careless writer. And you can be sure that when word gets around that a small town is the setting for a book, everybody in that town will want to read it!

    As a writer who does tons of research, and who never knowingly makes a mistake in my novels (in other words, whenever I discover a mistake, I change the story to eliminate it!) I can assure you this sort of thing matters to me—both in my own work, and in the work of others. If an author lists in a preface or afterwards, that they've fictionalised parts of a town, city or other location, then fair enough. But if they just make mistakes and don't care, because the place is too small to bother with? Um. It bothers me—the same way mistakes in basic physics would bother a scientist, or mistakes in historical data would bother a historian, or mistakes in the way the innards of an automobile are put together would bother an auto mechanic.

    I have set my first novel in Montana, in 1886, but in order to avoid problems, have not only fictionalised a town, but also a river and a mountain range! This gives me scope to design my setting, using overall information I've picked up while doing research about 'similar' places in the Territory, as was. However, if I mention any real locations, such as Helena, Butte, or other places, I use real information from the period, including what I've picked up from archived newspapers, first-hand accounts, photos, etc. My next novel is partly set in Boston of the same year, and I've spent ages, a fortune, and also visited (twice) to get the details right. That's the way I work.
     
    Last edited: Jun 25, 2015
  15. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    I live near a couple of villages called LITTLE Wenlock and MUCH Wenlock, there are a couple of places called Fontmell MAGNA and Fontmell PARVA, GREAT Malvern and LITTLE Malvern...

    Then there's WEDNESfield and WEDNESbury, but there is no WEDNESford...which is interesting, because Google came up with a photo of Market Street, Wednesford. Look more closely, and you see that the W has been written in, and is actually H. I also found a property registered in Wednesford but, again, it's Hednesford. This might have fooled your Googling!

    Again, there's HEDNESford and (I found out today!) HEDNESbury, but not HEDNESfield.

    Or Bishop's Wood, Kingswood...I lived in CODSALL Wood, which is near CODSALL.

    So, a few ideas, but the Little/Large variants are very regional, Wednes/Hednes are Viking, so would cover most of the East of the country, using Wood I think could work anywhere, but you'd need to do more than just tag it on to the end of your real village!

    Do you want to PM me?
     
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  16. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    This is a hoot! Just keep clicking, and the names just roll by. I assume they're all made up names?

    http://pastehtml.com/view/congsanz3.html
     
  17. rasmanisar
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    rasmanisar Active Member

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    Sweet lord above, this is all levels of accurate. As someone who has grown up in rural england, I can clarify that these names could be any town in the south. As for the north though, I'm not sure... We don't tend to go for that many syllables ;)
     
  18. Viridian
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    Viridian Contributing Member Supporter

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    @jannert and @Shadowfax, thanks guys, I've think I've finally done it - who knew it could be so hard! Jannert that link you posted was great. I've had to change the family name I was using too because guess what, there's a little village with the very same name a stone's throw from the my original village of choice!
     
  19. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't disagree with your overall logic, but your specific application of using a non-existent mountain range and river in Montana are certainly much larger and more meaningful "errors" than saying a street exists in Wexford when it doesn't, as an example. I think your point is that if you use a specific town and actually use its name you need to really be as accurate as you can, and I fully agree. But if you change the name and are simply using some significant aspect for your story, such as the dock at the loch was in poor repair, when it in fact it is not, but it is important to your story, tourist falls into the water when standing on a rotted timber, etc., I really don't see the harm in it. If someone recognizes the town you are describing and has an issue with it, the fact that the name is changed negates their complaint, in my opinion. I also am assuming this is a fiction story.
     
  20. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, I'm making it very clear in the blurb accompanying the book that the names I've given to these places in Montana Territory are entirely fictional. What I'm doing is using traits of Montana rivers and Mountain ranges within a certain part of the state—which I've researched very thoroughly—and constructing a fictional setting, surrounded by real places and actual historical events. I don't see how anybody can object, really. This gives me freedom to situate my ranch where I want to, without anybody complaining that it's not really 'like that' there in that particular part of the mountain range, or beside that particular river. I can also place it as close to (or as far away from) my fictional town as I want it to be. And the town can be laid out any way I want, and can have fictional people living in it (the local doctor, the town sheriff, the teacher, the owner of the general mercantile store are all characters in my novel) without modern day folks complaining that those people never existed.

    What I hope happens is that if any Montana people read the book, they don't think I've got the feel of the place all wrong.
     
  21. Lemon flavoured
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    Lemon flavoured Active Member

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    Rural British place names are sometimes really bizarre (see: Cropwell Bishop and Cropwell Butler in Nottinghamshire, Mavis Enderby in Lincolnshire, etc) so making something up shouldn't be an issue.
     
  22. tonguetied
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    tonguetied Contributing Member Contributor

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    I hope I get to read your book someday when you release it to the public. I read every C.J. Box book as soon as I get can get a copy, all Montana and Wyoming stories, and generally the mountainous territory is an important aspect to the story. He bases his stories on actual mountains and places which I think adds to the story, a description of how the sun sets rapidly in a north-south canyon, for example, plays into the action. Actually I feel that the best reason to use real settings as closely as possible is that you don't have to describe every last detail, a person that is familiar with the region already knows what you're describing and someone that is not familiar with it won't really care about the detail. That is, a brief statement of something that is based on reality is equivalent to voluminous detail needed to describe a totally fictional setting, in my opinion.

    A Scotsman (woman) in Big Sky country sounds like an interesting read to me, although I suspect that that isn't exactly what you are writing.
     
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  23. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I live in Scotland, but I'm actually a transplanted Michigander! Been here nearly 30 years, but I was 36 when I moved here and 37 when I got married. So I'm half-and half.

    I've been out West, but have never actually been through Montana! I've been across the border in Canada ...in fact all the way across Canada. I stayed in Washington state and Oregon for a summer, and traveled back via Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, etc ...but all my research about Montana has been done via other sources. I've been a card-carrying member of the Montana Historical Society for many years, have a 5-shelf bookcase full of Montana-related books, and of course do a lot of searching and enjoying pictures (and films) of Montana on the internet. I know I'm running a risk doing a fictional setting (in a historical time period) but because this is such recent history, my story would have been totally bound up in fitting my details into reality. I could not mention a small town without running into all sorts of bother with people who still live there, whose families settled there, etc. Same with the terrain around like mountain ranges, etc. All of these have real histories, and I would have been totally hamstrung trying to make a setting out of them.

    To put this in perspective, if I had been writing a similar story in the same time period, set in my own home town, a small town in the northeastern portion of Michigan's mitten, I'd have run into exactly the same problem. SO ...I would have had to invent a town and its surroundings, based on what I know about the general area. I would never have tried to set my story in my actual home town—because everybody knows its history, its families, etc. So this has nothing to do with me being familiar/unfamiliar with the territory. It has to do with how restrictive that sort of setting would be.

    It's easier to use real 'cities' for human interest stories, because they are big enough to absorb stories. Nobody knows everybody in these cities, so you can get away with made-up stories, as long as you don't mess around with the actual history of the city itself. And as I said, when I mention real places in Montana, I do use real settings. But my main characters and their story plays out in a fictionally-named setting, which I hope will feel real enough.

    This 'fictional towns and other settings within a real country' is not a device invented by me. It's used commonly in many stories, going back to Jane Austen and beyond. Pride and Prejudice. Longbourne and the other major estates mentioned in the story (in addition to many of the small towns) are totally fictional, even though the setting for the stories is basically real enough, as are the counties which get mentioned. Nobody in England goes mental because these places don't exist. I hope nobody in Montana goes mental because my invented places don't exist either.
     
    Last edited: Jun 30, 2015
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  24. Miss Lonelyhearts
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    Miss Lonelyhearts Member

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    I tend to focus on the flow of writing when using names and locations and the picture I want to paint. I want draw upon the existing framework of words so for example if they are walking down a road and I want to give the impression that it is a ruin down area Old Kent Road (in your case) or if it is up market and posh Mayfair Drive.
     
  25. 123456789
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    123456789 Contributing Member Contributor

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    Cause they have nothing else to do? :)
     
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