1. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Real chain or made up place?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by deadrats, Oct 10, 2016.

    When setting a story or scene in a restaurant or coffee shop, are you more likely to use a chain that everyone has heard of like Starbucks or TGI Fridays or are you more likely to create your own fictional establishment? What do you think the benefits are for these two options? I think that setting something in Starbucks can really ground the reading in the story since everyone has been to a Starbucks. So, when is it better not to use a real place?

    There was a recent story in one of the literary journals that took place at a hotel. It was a chain hotel. Even more specific than that it was pretty much spot on 100 percent with the details of the hotel at this location. It was pretty cool because I've stayed there before. I'm not sure I would have liked the story as much if it was a generic hotel or something the author just made up. What do you guys think of this?
     
  2. bonijean2
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    bonijean2 Senior Member Supporter

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    I think you should try to be more creative and not use a chain name besides its not fun to be at the wrong end of a lawsuit.
     
  3. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    Um.. okay, but no one is going to get sued for using Starbucks as the location for a short story. That's just not how things work. Sorry, but I really hate it when people put wrong information out there. There is nothing illegal about naming a real place or using it as a setting in fiction. People who read a lot see this all the time. And I'm not so sure it has anything to do with lack of creativeness. Like I said, I recently read a story that did this and I thought it was great. But I guess it's not something you would like. That's cool.
     
  4. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    I would usually prefer to make up my own. I'd be free to insert any whimsey that I wanted, and if I decided to depict something that might actually be actionable (like, say, major health code violations or connections with criminals) if said about a real chain, I wouldn't have to worry about exactly what crosses the line to libel.
     
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  5. bonijean2
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    bonijean2 Senior Member Supporter

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    Although it is rare in fiction, business establishments and organizations can and have been defamed just like people. The writer needs to be very careful when using the real name of a business not to associate it with any kind of bad act.
     
  6. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    To the OP.

    If it's set in the present time, there's nothing wrong with setting it in Starbucks (with the proviso to be careful about saying anything that might be defamatory!!!) whereas if you set it in a fictional chain, there's a sort of WTF moment. EVERYBODY has heard of Starbucks. Nobody has heard of Purple Bean Coffee Shop (OK, I just googled that, and it appears that some residents of Reno might!) so they're going to wonder whether it's supposed to be a chain, or just a local phenomenon. And, if it's a chain, you're going to have to go into some backstory to explain where it came from.
     
  7. big soft moose
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    big soft moose Active Member

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    It really depends on what i was writing i suspect - if the point is just two people meeting for coffee in order to discuss an affair/party/drug deal whatever then i'd probably use a real chain... if the establishment has a bigger part in the story and I might want to write about surly or unpleasant staff, or someone finding half a grey hound in the fridge or whatever then i'd use a fictional name so as to not get sued
     
  8. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Well it is entirely up to you whether you use a real chain or a made up one.
    Though it would get awkward if it takes place in an alt-universe using real
    chains.

    So do what thou will, just as long as you are happy with it. That is all the matters. :supersmile:
     
  9. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I see what you're saying. Good point.
     
  10. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I don't know. My fiction takes place in the world we live in, but if I read a story taking place on another planet that was set in a Starbucks, I think it could work. Not a bad idea if anyone wants to give it a shot.

    And thanks for the support. I'm not sure how much happiness naming or not naming Starbucks will bring me. But I do feel pretty good about the material I'm working with right now. Thanks.
     
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  11. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I was going to say I've never included a backstory for my setting, but when I thought about it, I have done that when I've made up a place. Not all the time. Sometimes. That is an interesting aspect of all this. I wonder which is more preferable to editors. It's probably all over the place in terms of what they like. Just out of curiosity, which do you prefer? Made up or real?
     
  12. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I'm not worried about libel. I don't think anyone would see it as a problem the way I am using it. Is fear of libel the only reason you wouldn't use a chain? If I don't actually use Starbucks, I probably won't name the coffee shop and it would be somewhat generic. That could work to. However, I would still be picturing Starbucks as I write.
     
  13. Spencer1990
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    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    I've heard arguments on both sides. One person said they'd never use a real setting like Starbucks because it puts a time stamp on their work. I laughed at this because it's damn near impossible to not date your story in one way or another. But the point stood. Starbucks is pervasive now but history tells us it won't be forever.

    On the other hand, pop-culture references can engage someone further into a story. Personally, I'm not worried about the time-stamp thing because I write the stories I want to write and sometimes they use real establishments as settings. It allows you to focus on the story because the ambiance is already set just from the name Starbucks.

    I think you should do whatever way you want but those are the two arguments I've heard.
     
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  14. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    But it's fiction. And if published, it will be very clear that this is all fiction even if it takes place somewhere real. In the world of literary short fiction, it's not unusual for bad acts or whatever to take place at real establishments. I have taken many, many writing courses. And no one ever said anything like what you are saying EVER. I think it's one thing if you are trying to bring down a place like Starbucks, but all I am trying to do is set a story there. If it's not a good story or am editor had a problem with it, they wouldn't buy it or publish it. But, again, I see this sort of thing all the time when I read stories in journals and magazines.
     
  15. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I can see these two arguments. They both make sense. Like you, I'm not worried about the timestamp. I am writing contemporary fiction for the most part. I want these stories to feel like they are taking place today. And since the built-in ambiance and feel for the place is already there with a chain, sometimes it seems easier. But it's not just that it's easier. Nothing about writing is really easy. I guess I like the timestamp. My fiction is littered with pop culture. It can be a lot of fun to include these sort of things. I have found that I like to write weird stories that take place in common settings or more common stories is weird locations. It's usually one of those two combinations that tends to work best for me. And when a common setting is turned into a real-life setting, it can add a little flavor, I think. I'm not sure it's always the best choice, but I do like to read stories that mention real people or places.
     
  16. ChickenFreak
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    ChickenFreak Contributing Member Contributor

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    Well, fear of libel would be the far, far end of the spectrum of the reason. The overall spectrum is about freedom--I want to be able to give the place a very specific character without having to take the trouble to research what the real place is like--and, at that far end of the spectrum, without worrying that I'm telling negative falsehoods. Now, if it were a passing reference ("Where should we meet?" "Outside the Starbucks on Tenth.") and I was never going to use the place again, I wouldn't bother to make up my own. But if it's a setting that I use a fair bit, I'd generally make up my own.
     
  17. bonijean2
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    bonijean2 Senior Member Supporter

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    Why are you asking for other members opinions when you already have your mind made up on using a chain as your setting? I'm sure your short story will be wonderful.
     
  18. Cave Troll
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    Cave Troll Bite the bullet, do your own thing. Contributor

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    Went to Starbucks and sampled the barista, then I got an overpriced coffee. Now I think about it both are just pretentious hype, for a mediocre experience. :superlaugh:
     
  19. deadrats
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    deadrats Active Member

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    I've done it both ways in the past. I just thought this topic could bring about an interesting conversation. I wouldn't say my minds made up at all so I don't know why you're saying it in a way that feels condescending. That's not cool. You make it sound like I should never have posted this. You really didn't need to reply if you have a problem with me or my post.
     
  20. Shadowfax
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    Shadowfax Contributing Member Contributor

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    Sorry, I thought I'd made my preference clear. I'd prefer a real chain, simply to avoid the problem of explaining away (even if just to myself) how this fictional chain stole the market away from S-B. Although, I might go with We went to the Purple Bean Coffee Shop; so much nicer than those overpriced, same-in-every-town chains.

    This "economic evolution" that I'd need to explain away is something that often irritates me in Sci-Fi, when an author hypothesises What if a race evolved that had a symbiotic life-form living inside them that gives them the memory of several life-times, enabling them to make better decisions? How on Earth (or on whatever planet this happened) did this evolution take place? This is one of those evolutionary leaps that gives Intelligent Design ammunition!
     
  21. Iain Aschendale
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    Iain Aschendale Contributed Member Contributor

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    If you want to quickly establish the ambience of a known chain without risking being on the wrong end of a lawsuit, you could just do what they did in Coming to America: Identify your restaurant/coffee shop/brothel as a rip-off of an existing chain.

    "I walked into the Purple Bean and ordered a grande frapplechino. The PB was one of a myriad of Starbuck's clones that had sprung up in the past few years, with the main difference being that the nearest Starbuck's was two blocks farther away from my apartment. Oh, and that, unlike the PB, nobody had ever found half a greyhound in a Starbuck's fridge, but that was weeks ago, and I needed my caffeine fix."
     
  22. bonijean2
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    bonijean2 Senior Member Supporter

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    That wasn't my intention at all and I am sincerely sorry if I hurt your feelings.
     
    Last edited: Oct 11, 2016
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  23. Ebenezer Lux
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    I prefer a made-up chain because then I get to brand it how I want it to be. For example, the Flash series always alludes their characters getting Big Belly Burgers-something that definitely doesn't exist in our world, but because of the show, we come to associate it with some place to chill and pig out after fighting the baddies. Using real-life chains already has set connotations in place.
     
  24. Correl Elnream
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    Correl Elnream Member

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    Naming any commercial enterprise in a fictional novel will carry a degree of risk and although the common perception is that an author may inadvertently offend the enterprise, it could also be that the enterprise has a detrimental effect on the novel. For example, an author may include in their novel a commercial enterprise who are involved in a scandal or with whom the reader has had a bad experience. Now every time that reader sees the name of the commercial enterprise mentioned in the the novel they are drawn out of the story. I personally stick to generics and use fictitious names.
     
  25. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Depends what I'm going for. In my work in progress my mc a teenage boy irritates his director by insisting they eat at McDonalds and Swiss Chalet. He goes along with it because he's interested in how Finlay thinks. But the refills, the plastic menus, the customers, the swiftness of the meal amuse the hell out of Kavado. I try to keep a balance. I'm not out to run down either place but merely show what it looks to a pretentious outsider.
     

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