1. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Use real cities or fake ones for story set in America?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Lea`Brooks, Apr 13, 2014.

    Hello all!

    So normally, I write stories that take place in fictional worlds. I make my own fantasy maps and create my own cities. But the current fantasy novel I'm writing takes place in America at an undisclosed year in the future. The country has been ravaged by war, global warming, and illness and appears much different than our world today. The current coastlines are flooded, and many major cities have been destroyed. My MC&Company will be traveling across the country, from a place near Denver, Colorado to Orlando, Florida, making many stops along the way.

    But my question is, should I actually use the real cities? I know nothing about Denver (or any of the places they'll be stopping at), so I fear that I would write its description poorly and anger residents of Denver. If I did use it, how much research would I need to do? Would it be okay to basically bullshit it, since the story is set so far in the future? Or should I just opt to use a completely fictional city nearby to avoid all that?

    I will be using Orlando, because it's going to be basically destroyed. Hardly anyone lives in Florida in my story because the state has become so flooded and damaged by hurricanes.


    Any advice would be greatly appreciated. :)
     
  2. Smoke Z
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    Smoke Z Active Member

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    That is a tough call. I'm not sure how much effort you should take in either going on a road trip or contacting people from these cities. I've noticed that many towns in the same area tend to feel alike. Someplace near a certain highway is going to be just like the place one exit over. Like how just about any county seat in Indiana is alike, save for the color of the courthouse, whether the traffic around it goes clockwise or counter, and which cardinal direction has the two-way street.

    Then again, if they are going to be changed by time, just taking a virtual trip via street-view should tell you what type of town it is like.
     
  3. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    There are a few things to consider here, such as how far in the future and how has the culture changed as a result?

    If you look at history, you will see than names change and towns and cities come and go all the time. You just need to have a reason is all. For example, settlers from a decimated city moves out and form a new city.
     
  4. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    I haven't set a firm date in the future, but it's pretty far ahead. A lot has changed, but yet nothing has changed at all. There have been little technological advances, but the culture has changed dramatically. It's going to have a post-apocalyptic feel, without being too "The Road." I like your suggestion very much! Thanks you!
     
  5. James Joyce
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    James Joyce Member

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    You really can do whatever you want. Even if it is placed in America, you can use a real city and make up the geography, or just make up a city.
     
  6. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    I think if it's set in the future you shouldn't worry too much about getting a spot on description. I'm from Los Angeles, but I live in Knoxville, TN. I went back last fall after being gone for over a year... I barely recognized it. Businesses come and go, street names changes, parks fold up, neighborhoods change, buildings are torn down and new ones erected in their place. Cities rarely stay the same for longer than a decade or so.
     
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  7. desert rat
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    desert rat Member

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    I agree with the previous posts, but would also suggest you think about how connected you want the reader to feel. Using real cities will provide a greater feeling of intimacy (I think) as the story is tied to the present. I have never been to New York, but I can relate to a story set there from all of the imagery from television and film. Using fictional cities will be less realistic, and may require greater description (?). But it all depends upon that "feel" you want the reader to have while reading.
     
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  8. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    how far in the future?

    if you're using orlando as orlando, then it can't be all that far in the future and it won't make any sense to readers if the characters don't go through or pass by all the other former major cities along their way, will it?
     
  9. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    Length of time doesn't necessarily lead to a name change. Los Angles has be Los Angeles since 1771. That's 243 years with the same name.
     
  10. Who
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    Who Member

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    As a general rule, real cities should be used. Why? Because it brings with it a feeling of reality.

    The whole idea of a story is to allow the reader to suspend their disbelief in the events taking place. When working with a fictional world or city, this can be done by creating a realistic set of rules and societal supports like any real city or world would have. Since you are taking your readers to a future time in America, it would actually go to discredit your story if there was nothing to identify it as being just that.

    By making it a real city and doing the proper research for accuracy, as well as using sound reason to determine future conditions, you are bringing your fantasy to a real setting. The reader, now that they know the city exists, is that little bit closer to suspending their disbelief and being able to invest in your story. A vague city is not something you can relate to and believe in.

    Plus, the research can actually be quite fun and you're learning something along the way. Not so bad.
     
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  11. Pelion
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    Pelion New Member

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    Most cities in america aren't the big geographical goliaths you read about. They are the small towns just making by, you can absolutely fictionalize the area and it's surroundings. Just get the name right, that'll be a nice guide for you and your story while still keeping a little bit of fact in the matter.
     
  12. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    But...it wasn't, according to its wiki, settled until 1781 before being incoporated into the US by 1850. Sorry, but as a history buff, I demand a certain level of historical research. I do not want to see your characters running around in a city that hasn't been created yet. It would be like me writing a story in Churchill's England, and everyone talks about Doctor Who.

    But otherwise, you're correct. A city can hold the same name over the centuries. Look at London, for example.

    As for me? I like to use fictional cities, why? Because the last thing I'd want is to piss off an entire real-world city because I got one of their historical facts wrong, or I represented them in the wrong light, or...anything like that.
     
    Last edited: Apr 14, 2014
  13. Alesia
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    Alesia Pen names: AJ Connor, Carey Connolly Contributor

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    You're right. I posted that in the middle of the night, wrote the date of the construction of Mission San Gabriel instead.
     
  14. Link the Writer
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    Link the Writer Flipping Out For A Good Story. Contributor

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    It's cool. Sorry if I sounded rude back there.
     
  15. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    This is exactly what I want to avoid. lol I really want the story to take place in Colorado (mostly because of love it, but also because it makes sense in the context of my story), and I've been there three times, but I haven't been there enough to know much about it. I don't understand the cultures and the history and whatnot.

    However! Like @Alesia said earlier, businesses come and go, parks fold up, etc. If I choose to use Denver, with it being in the future, I wouldn't necessarily have to do a butt ton of research. I still plan to use Orlando as the destination, though it's completely destroyed and barely recognizable as a city anymore. I'll have them pass through or close to some other large cities that haven't been destroyed, so the reader will still know they're in America. When they stop at smaller towns though, I'm going to make those up.

    I just didn't want to use Denver and mess it up too badly, even though it's set at least 200 years minimum in the future.


    Thanks guys! Your input really helped. :)
     
  16. Fronzizzle
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    Fronzizzle Member

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    I had a similar question a few weeks ago, and the best advice I got was don't worry about accuracy as much as plausibility. That did wonders for me, in a lot of areas and I think of it often when situations like these come up. Even though it's set in the future, you can find enough information online (quickly) to get a plausible history without it being 100% accurate.
     
  17. Jack Asher
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    Jack Asher Wildly experimental Contributor

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    Google maps can tell you a hell of a lot about a city you've never been too. And if you need any help, I'm a Colorado native, who has spent the last ten years in Denver.
     
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  18. zaphod
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    zaphod Member

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    There are multiple routes. I can only describe it from Denver to Texas, and from Texas to Florida:

    Denver is a nice city. The downtown and inner city neighborhoods are clean and safe with a lot of parks and new condo buildings full of hipsters. There is a modern light rail transit system. The airport is beyond amazing and futuristic, the best one in the US and more like what you'd see in Korea or Japan really. South side gets progressively more upper middle class as you head towards Centennial, Highland Ranch, etc. These suburbs look a lot like California IMO- the architecture of the houses and malls and office parks. West side is blue collar middle class. Parts of northeast Denver are poor. Colfax Avenue is the old school main route through town before the interstates were built and has a lot of old style commercial buildings.

    Going south from Denver to Texas you go on some rural 2 lane highways through the plains. Lamar is the only town that had a McDonalds. It is the most desolate part of the country I have ever seen.

    Between Amarillo and Lubbock and Dallas-Fort Worth there's some interesting terrain. Rivers cut little rocky canyons through the elevated plains leaving cool buttes which today are covered in wind turbines. But then once you get to I-20 the land turns from red and brown to green and yellow and there are more trees, oaks, etc. Amarillo and Lubbock and Abiliene are medium sized cities with a few tall buildings. If you go through Vernon and Witchita Falls, well a lot less scenic, more like empty ranchland.

    On US 81 you see billboards with lovely messages like "Porn is against Christianity". This area is within what ranks as the most conservative US house district according to some metrics. It starts to feel a little weird here in the middle of nowhere.

    Dallas to Houston is rolling but not hilly, green, wooded but with oaks rather than pine trees. No big towns.

    Houston to Lake Charles- the Piney Woods.

    Lake Charles-Baton Rouge-Mobile: Cool part of the trip. Lots of bridges over swamps including extremely long one near lafayette. Big bridge in Baton Rouge. Gulfport-Biloxi bigger town than you think.

    Mobile- Looks like a bigger city than it is. Has a skyscraper downtown. You go underneath the Mobile River in a tunnel. The tunnel is fun to drive through, but they may replace it with a bridge. Then immediately emerge in the port district and then get on a very long bridge over the bay. Behind you is an amazing skyline of buildings, port cranes, ships, factories, and the cable stayed suspension bridge that carries another freeway in the city's suburbs to the north.

    Pensacola- smaller than Mobile but has a beach. You don't see the water from the road here.

    I-10 North Florida- Nobody ever expects Florida to have hills, but it does have what are kind of like foothills between the coastal plain that's barely above sea level and the inland.

    We cross the Chattahoochee river.

    Up river is a huge lake and along it, a nuclear power plant.

    The Chattahoochee river rest stop area is cool, its in the middle of the interstate lanes which are far apart and divided by trees.

    Because the land is all used for military bases or timber farming it's extremely empty and wooded out here. Elgin AFB- big and huge and rugged, Steve Irwin did an episode here catching snakes and other endangered things that can survive because all that land is off limits and closed. There are huge trees. That spanish moss stuff you see on scooby doo? It lives here. Go south the coast, that's called the Redneck Riviera. There are high rise beach resort towers in Panama City, which is spring break ground zero for colleges like Alabama. The sand is white too at Ft Walton and St. George's Island.

    Anyways..

    Tallahasee- Bigger place than you realize. Kind of a pretty town.

    I-10 to 75 is boring. Trees along a straight highway. Only towns are dumps, with closed outlet malls. Turn south on 75.

    All looks like more of the same until you get to Ocala. Now you feel the pull of the mouses' evil empire with the disney tourist info center thing nearby. Why?

    Well 75 goes to Tampa, time to get on the Florida Turnpike.

    After Ocala you go down a small bluff and the land turns into a pancake. This is near the frost line and where they grow citrus. Congratulations, you are in what some people would consider more of the "real" Florida now.

    On the turnpike, you see citrus farms, suburbia, and lakes. Lots of lakes. Orlando feels like a brighter sun on the horizon now. The road gains extra lanes. There are more overpasses, and more stuff.

    We are now basically in Orlando. I only went to Disney World so I know nothing about the city.
     
    Last edited: Apr 23, 2014
  19. HelloThere
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    HelloThere Contributing Member

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    I see you mentioned "The Road." - I quite liked the fact that there was no reference to any city names in that, or even any character names for that matter. This put across a sense of irrelevance regarding humanity, it kind of added to the sense of degradation of society to such a basic level. You might want to do the opposite depending on how crippled your post-apocalyptic world is.
     
  20. Picaroon
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    Picaroon Banned

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    Nobody touched on this point yet, but the biggest advantage is that you can potentially sell a lot of books to local residents who want to read a story that takes place in their own city. It's real hard to sell copies of your book, especially if self publishing, so every advantage helps!
     
  21. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    that's the up-side...

    the down-side is that if you don't know the city/town intimately and get it wrong due to poor research, you'll anger readers who live/lived there and annoy reviewers who may pan it...
     
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  22. Lea`Brooks
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    Lea`Brooks Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thanks everybody for your input!

    @zaphod That information is very helpful! Unfortunately, my characters are going north into South Dakota, then through Missouri and Illinois before going to Florida. But I'll definitely take your description of Denver into account! I'm not too worried about not having information on Orlando. In my novel, the city has been destroyed, so the streets or details won't really matter. I am going to use a destroyed Disneyworld though. :p

    @HelloThere You're very right! The world is badly damaged, but it isn't unlivable. I'll be sure to mention big cities that they pass, so that the reader can get a sense of the world.

    @Picaroon I agree with both you and @mammamaia. I would like to be able to use a city, but I don't want to do it incorrectly and anger anyone. I grew up in St. Louis, so I would always get a little annoyed when a book or movie took place in it and wasn't done correctly. I'll probably do some mild research about downtown Denver -- that's where my novel starts. But my characters won't be there too terribly long, so only a little research is required. But Picaroon, you did give me the idea to use my hometown as one of the places they stop! I think it'd be fun to put my little town on the map. :p

    Thanks again everyone! Your advice is greatly appreciated. :)
     
  23. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    If you're doing Denver, just throw in something about the mircrobrewing culture, and if you want to sound Colorado-literate, refer to "LoDo" (Lower Downtown) - it's a trendy area that used to be industrial before they built the baseball stadium there. Another landmark to consider using is the Brown Palace Hotel - the nicest one in town - it would make a fun ruin - as would Red Rocks Ampitheatre. Also everyone in Colorado will laugh if you reference the burnt out ruins of a place called Casa Bonita :)

    Also - if any of your people are from there and do hiking or climbing, make sure they use the term "Fourteener", meaning a mountain that is reaches at least 14,000 feet above sea level. Everyone in Colorado knows this term, and it's sort of the unofficial definition of a "real mountain" for the people who like climbing. My old boss used to have a "Fourteeners of Colorado" poster in the office - and I don't think he was even a climber. (Used in a Sentence: "Hey, you want to climb a Fourteener this weekend?")
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2014
  24. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Also Denverites won't be offended - they're laid back, sporty people who go hiking for fun. They don't care - and for what it's worth, Colorado is such a transient "destination state" that a lot of the people who live there didn't grow up there and don't have crazy strong roots.
     
  25. justwriting
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    justwriting New Member

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    Hah, I had the same feeling when I started writing my short story. The city in my story has a corrupt police force hence I didn't want to just pick a random actual city and piss off their police department. But, I ended up doing some research and just found a city where there have been issues with corrupt police and now I'm ok with using that city set at the times when corrupt police officers were a common occurrence :) It was also fun to do all the research.
    Not sure if that's the best way, maybe I should use Shermer, IL :)
     

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