1. Happiegrrrl
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    Happiegrrrl New Member

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    Use of Actual Town in Fiction

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Happiegrrrl, Jul 24, 2013.

    I am working on a story which takes place in a Missouri small town, in the late 1890's. I visited this town last year, and when I began my story, and asked myself where it was occurring, the town immediately came to mind. It was a bustling place during the time period of my story, and has some elements about it which fit well with my plot.

    Though the work is fiction, I will be incorporating some realistic aspects(descriptive layout of town, perhaps some of the building which were in place, reference to events such as a county fair, and so on).

    In the story, I have some very nice characters, but also some very,very,nasty ones.

    My question is - Would it be better to create a fictional name for a town instead of referring to this actual one? Is there any possibility of causing myself trouble in using the actual town name?


    Thanks in advance.
     
  2. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    You could always use the town, but make it anonymous. You don't necessarily have to name it, or if you do name it, you don't necessarily have to use it's real name. I feel like this kind of gives you the best of both worlds, in that you have a real place you can see, you could investigate its history, be inspired by it's setting, etc., but if you don't actually name the town, no one can accuse you of getting some detail wrong. Also, if it works better for your story to change some detail, you can.

    But if naming the town, and setting it there specifically is somehow important to the story, go ahead and do it. Just try to make sure you get the details right, so that people who recognize it won't be pulled out of the story by thinking about how something is inaccurate.
     
  3. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Dang, [MENTION=38553]chicagoliz[/MENTION]. Leave some good advice for the rest of us to give! LOL :D

    I can't think of anything to add to what Liz has said save for the following: If you do make use of a real place, as you propose, be careful not to over-egg the descriptions. If they're not part of what happens in the story, they don't belong, no matter how real and factual they may be. If it's a piece of fiction, then it's a piece of fiction, not a travel guide.
     
  4. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Tons of books and films use the real name of towns and cities. You can't get into trouble for it - Sleepless in Seattle for example but I would agree with Liz; In my book I use a small rural area, not even a village but very historic and religously important for it's Celtic Cross and High Tower but I've changed the name to give me the freedom to get things 'wrong'. At the same time I want people there to realise where my story is set and I have this picture in my head of tourists flocking to it on the back of my story.
     
  5. Anthony Martin
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    Anthony Martin Active Member

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    I second [MENTION=38553]chicagoliz[/MENTION] and [MENTION=3885]Wreybies[/MENTION] here. If you are going to write that Missouri town as it was in the late 19th century, using its proper name, then perhaps you can attain a map from that time period so that you write it true? I just read an interview with Ben Stroud where he talks about he did that for a story about Havana.
     
  6. Huginn Blue
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    Huginn Blue New Member

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    Myself, I would use a fictional name, but keep the state/region.
    That way, people can relate to the landscape ... and if someone is interested, one could research and find out which town yours was based on. I like to do that when reading, and you get to keep some creativity freedom.
     
  7. jannert
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    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    That's certainly what I do. I've gone even farther. Fictional town, mountain range and river valley ...but set in a certain 'real' Territory (in 1886) before it became a State. All the other details, including the 'real' towns the characters visit, the trains they travel on, etc, are as true as I can make them. I've been told that some people—natives of that real State, probably—will hate this approach, but hey. They'd also hate it if I picked a real town and then inserted fictional people into it. I give my character a 'real' address, and it turns out the person whose ancestor actually lived at that address reads the book? Erm ...no.

    I think it's important, if you get to the stage where your book has a blurb or dedication on its cover, that you make it clear what bits you created as opposed to researched. I think that's the best you can do, really. Most people who read historically-based fiction accept that this happens.
     
  8. Winged-Walls
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    Winged-Walls Member

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    You absolutely wouldn't get in trouble for it. That said, it all depends on how many ...artistic liberties you're taking with the town in question. Making up a bar is fine, rearranging the town's entire layout or adding, say, a prison or a giant castle in the middle of it is not. So it all depends what you want to do with it. If you don't plan on altering the original town it was based on, you need to do some research. If that's fine with you and the plot you've been working on, then go ahead. Otherwise, just make up a name.

    Also, this may be a wacky idea, but in the 19th century a lot of French writers - especially Victor Hugo - set their stories in real locations, but only used the initial in their text. For example, in Les Miserables, Bayonne becomes 'B...'. This was indeed (I think) not to get himself in trouble, as back then the king could have reacted badly to his criticism. Nowadays there is no such concern to be had, but you can draw inspiration from it and use initials, or even very similar names (with, say, only a couple of letters' difference). I think that's what I would do.
     
  9. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    it's done all the time... just take care to be accurate, so those who know the place well won't pan you for goofs...
     
  10. Happiegrrrl
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    Happiegrrrl New Member

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    Thanks for your help and suggestions.

    I have been researching the town a bit. It has some marvelous history. and I am inclined to name the real town. I've been intending to using actual settings in some instances(it had a swampy area which had been drained and cleared, as an example, and one of my characters will be vying for a prize at the County Fair, which was in existence, but I know very little else at this time), On the other end, I have also made up the businesses(so far a general store, bank and saloon, which my very nasty character runs a brothel out of). I intend to have his sorry butt manhandled in the way he has at least one other, and then dumped in that swamp.

    My fear was of potentially insulting the history of this town with some of the scenes that occur, and that if the book were published (and a runaway success, but of course....), perhaps the municipality would have some legal recourse, or at least attempt to sue, in suggesting I had caused damage to their good name.

    I'm enjoying the research aspect, and will do my very best to be true to the layout of the region at the time, using actual street names, referring to the working railroads of the time, but drawing the line very clearly that all persons or places of business are completely fictional. I do have a census from the time, and will make sure I haven't accidentally named my villain after the town preacher or something - hahah.

    I do appreciate the suggestion to make sure I get actual details correct, and will do my best to research properly.
     
  11. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    As a Missouri resident, I can tell you the line between real and fiction is highly debatable in any case.
    I say go for it.
     
  12. Gholin
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    Gholin Member

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    Also, remember Forks, WA. Stephanie Meyer's version of it is very different than the real deal and she didn't catch any flak that i know of. In fact, she put it on the map for tourism! You might make the people of your little Missouri town superstars one day!
     
  13. Happiegrrrl
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    Happiegrrrl New Member

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    Thanks everyone! My story is coming along nicely,though I have a looooong way to go! And getting a bit of a list of things to be researched. I'm starting to realize how many times I just take something for granted(such as that there were "old Oaks" on the edge of town, and that there might be a stream nearby. Sure...these things may easily be, but better to see if I can find out for sure(My old Oka, for instance, may become a Cottonwood, which was also a tree local to the area).
     

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