1. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    Torn between using real locations and imagined.

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Hettyblue, Sep 21, 2012.

    As I progress through my story, the characters are becoming more real and developed; but I am becoming increasingly disatisfied, with the loosely drawn locations. I have been deliberately vague about town names so far and refered to geographical locations imprecisely. I could use real towns as they are pictured in my mind as I write, but as I am mixing in imaginary places as suit the plot, it is never going to match up.

    I can see disadvantages to using all real locations, as, if I need to refer to an Ato Z every time I write, it will be a drag and potentially limiting. Is a mix of real locales and made up ones going to work? Am I being lazy? Or sensible?

    I will be using London for instance and using my knowledge of the city and real locations there, but other places are going to be amalgams of real and imagined places.
     
  2. DefinitelyMaybe
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    DefinitelyMaybe Contributing Member Contributor

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    You can use real locations, but not name them. Or give them different names. That gives you the best of both worlds. Didn't Arthur Ransome mix up Windermere and Coniston Water when writing "Swallows and Amazons"?
     
  3. JamesOliv
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    JamesOliv Senior Member

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    When I use real places, I only use places I know well so tha I don't need to spend large amounts of time researching things like "would there be a residential building in this particular area?"

    People do weird things with real locations. Things like having a store clerk living alone on the upper west side of manhattan. I was reading an ebook the other day that had the protagonist visiting a "crack house located at 96th street and broadway." considering that particular intersection is exceptionally affluent, I don't think a crack house would thrive there. I'm not sure if someone didn't do their homework or they were trying to make a statement about high society. In either case, it gave me cause to delete the book from my kindle, never to trouble me again.

    I write about a monk who lives in a religious community. I leave geography vague specifically to illustrate how removed from the world he is.

    I also love renaming real locations. More accurately, I create a location, but as I consider the movements of the character, I move them along the map of another area. It comes in handy. I have used my hometown as a template for locations in Pennsylvania, New York state and Virginia.

    I don't think you are being lazy. I think different writers use different approaches based on their needs. When I am writing about my monk, the point is that the geography is almost irrelevant. His interactions, his community and his overall "setting" are grouped into the religious community, be it in California or Pennsylvania.

    If you find a real location works well, run with it. If you need to make up a place to suit your needs, have at it.

    There is more to setting than geography.
     
  4. Hettyblue
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    Hettyblue Member

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    Thank you Definitely and James - I am getting too hung up on this no doubt.

    There is more to scene setting than geography - but I must admit to a weakness for books with little hand drawn maps at the the front!;)
     
  5. sharonwagoner
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    sharonwagoner Member

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    William Faulkner wrote about a true place Lafayette County, Mississippi, but used the fictitious Yoknapatawpha County to allow for any changes he wished to make in his fiction novels.
     
  6. Spiderman
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    Spiderman Member

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    Be more specific with the genre you want, and then it'll be easier for me to help answer the question/idea.
     
  7. The Crazy Kakoos
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    The Crazy Kakoos Member

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    I don't think genre is that important when choosing whether or not to have real or fictional settings.

    I'd say if it serves your story and you're familiar with it then use real. If a real setting isn't that important and then maybe a fictional one can be tailored to fit better.

    Ultimately, it is how important your setting is to the story.
     
  8. Selbbin
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    Selbbin I hate you Contributor

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    I create my own cities and then avoid naming them, so I can create my own geography at will.
     
  9. captain kate
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    captain kate Active Member

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    Nothing wrong with using real locations. Patricia Cornwall's 'Kay Scarpeta' series started when she lived in Richmond (and recently moved back from Charlotte) and she used locations throughout the city. Some were real, like the parks, cemeteries and roads, while businesses, etc were fictionally named. There's nothing illegal with using public places like cities, and street names. As for using the parks and cemeteries , I'd double check that lit a lit attorney though.
     
  10. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    There's absolutely nothing wrong with using a real place but not naming it. Very frequently you'll hear someone review or discuss a book or movie and say something like, "It takes place in a city that sounds an awful lot like London..." or wherever. The point is, you can do a good job describing the city so that anyone familiar with it will recognize it, but by keeping it anonymous, you allow yourself the ability to improvise when needed.

    Also, there's nothing "illegal" about having a story take place in a public place, even a park or cemetery.
     
  11. DDNeal
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    DDNeal Member

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    I like using real cities if the story style is suited for it. It lets you do research on locations, their history, etc and enlighten your reader to something real in their world even if the story is fake. As to physical locations it's better to be vague unless you need to be specific, except for landmarks.
     
  12. johann77
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    johann77 Member

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    Some where between there and over there, I'm aro
    I only use real locations when its big cities.
     
  13. HJC
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    HJC New Member

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    I think that there is an arguably bad comfort in affirmation that the place you have in your mind is based in reality. I think this because when I personally write I have this feeling that my imagination has fundamental flaws in it that stop it from being believable, it isn't true but I feel the need to justify every nuance although it doesn't need justifying, I think you have to get someone to read your work and see if it is believable.
     
  14. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I always try to use real places, but change the names completely. Sometimes I will mix up a few different places to make a new one, but everything is still based on reality 100%. I think it gives much better detail, even if you don't dwell on the setting at all, it's nice to already know the people who work in the grocery shop or how to get to the freeway from the character's house etc.
     
  15. mg357
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    mg357 Active Member

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    Why not use both? use a mix of real locations and imagined locations.
     
  16. Tales of Anima
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    Tales of Anima Member

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    Simply add this disclaimer before the very first paragraph.

    "The names of certain people, locations, and events documented in this novel have been changed to protect the innocent. And the guilty."

    Fiction or nonfiction, doesn't matter the genre; add it and you're gold.

    /only slightly serious
    //more serious if we're talking comedy
     
  17. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    the writer should not add the disclaimer to the ms... it's a standard one that the publisher adds to the book, when it's printed...

    add it to your ms and you're shouting to agents/publishers, 'I'm a clueless amateur!'...
     
  18. sylvertech
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    sylvertech Active Member

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    I tend to dislike using existent places since I still remember famous authors who mentioned real locations,
    and needless to say, I did not appreciate having to look at a map of london or the state where they live.

    I advise using imaginary places, although you could, and perhaps even should, get inspiration from real places,
    or even simply change their names, which would force you to better description and not rely on reference encyclopedias.
     
  19. Talmay
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    Talmay Member

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    Setting has always been my greatest weakness. What I tend to do is pick someplace, do some research, and choose what I want to use and add it into my fictional town. Real enough, but without having to start from scratch. Otherwise, I just don't give names beyond country, state, etc (instead simply using "Linden House, Maine").
     
  20. mbear
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    mbear Member

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    I mix them. For example I have a college setting in my story and I actually mix two colleges I personally attended when describing the place and will give it a fictitious name. But the place I describe will be a real place I have been before and therefore believable and easy to describe if I close my eyes and think about it.
     

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