1. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    Using a real city

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by hvb, Nov 10, 2013.

    OK, I get that not everyone finds Brisbane, Queensland, Australia exotic or even attractive. Maybe no one does.
    But leaving that aside, so far in my novel I am using some real localities .
    They aren't important, they could be any locality, but to me it reads more realistic if I can write that my character went for lunch at the restaurant up on Mt. Cootha and that from the deck, she and her guest could look out on the city and what that was like. I will change the name of the restaurant, by the time my book comes out, if it ever happens, it may have changed names and owners many times.
    I did create a fictional suburb for the main locality, because it allowed me to create a Crumlin police station, Crumlin being the fictional suburb.
    My question: does it make the story more realistic using some real places? Or is it better to keep it all generic?
    Hetty
     
  2. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    In my opinion, using real places does tend make it seem more realistic, and it gives the story a different feel. Depending on the writer, it could be as clear as real world verses complete fantasy. Ultimately, I think it depends on the style you want for your story. There's no fine line though, it's a sliding scale. You can re-imagine any real city as something radically different in the world you create.
     
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  3. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I always base my stories on real places, but I like to mix them up. My current story is partly based in London, but a lot of places where scenes take place, apartments, police station, grocery store, coffee shop, all come from Melbourne, Australia. Likewise, the other location is Bury St Edmunds in Suffolk, but I'll change the name of the town and maybe make it coastal, like a mix between Bury and Sunderland. I think it's important that you know your locations really well, then even if the overall setting is fictional, you'll still have the degree of authenticity that works best in a novel.
     
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  4. Njal
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    Njal Member

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    Real locations are a mixed blessing. I might shy away from restaurants and such - just because as you say they may change hands. But this suggests that you want the story to happen in the Real (capital R) world, which you may not. A story that is based in the real world cannot cope with the changes that happen externally to it in the real world. But stories are always produced at a given time. In many ways a story that is dated by a few details (there is no longer a restaurant on that street corner) makes it all the more interesting. The way that reality has changed, while the story has kept the same 'old world' could make the story come alive - inhabiting its own world separate from our own.

    The dangers you face:
    - what if I misrepresent something? (how do people really speak in Glasgow?)
    - what if the details I use date the story?

    The potential gains:
    - grounded in the 'real' world (less fantastic)
    - whatever happens in the story has a comparison point in the real world (juxtaposition of normality and fantasy can be very potent)

    If I set up a location as referencing a real place then I can proceed in a few different ways:

    1. Try to be as accurate as possible
    2. Fictionalise parts of the place (add extra fictional roads/locations in an otherwise 'real' setting)
    3. Alternate world. Take the traits of the place but entirely fictionalise the setting (York in 2345 AD, for example, or Oxford in 'His Dark Materials').

    Using real cities and some real locations definitely makes a story seem more 'real', if by 'real' we mean 'based in the world as we know it'. But if being 'based in the world as we know it' isn't a constraint on the story then there's no compulsion to.
     
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  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    Using a real place enables you to make your story more vivid and realistic. Even if you make it anonymous. Many stories give a wonderful sense of place, and a lot of people really like that.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    as both a reader and a writer, i much prefer real places to made-up ones... as a reader, i love being taken back to places i've been and introduced to ones i've missed, in my decades of world-wandering...

    i would always encourage new writers to use real places, as long as they can do so convincingly... which, to me, means they've either been there, or are masterful researchers...
     
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  7. MrPizzle
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    MrPizzle Member

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    I try to keep my story as grounded as possible.
     
  8. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    I

    Thanks, I actually use a combination of real and fictitious, but I take your advice on board. Therefor: Mt. Cootha is the name of the real mountain, but the name of the restaurant fictitious.
    I picked Brisbane because that's my nearest big city. I live in a small country town and the story needs a big city to provide the college, particular businesses where my characters work or deal with. Of course, all those are fictitious and not based on any real places there.
     
  9. hvb
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    hvb Member

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    It's a bit like fiction set against a historical period. I think it does make the story more authentic , as you recognise facts.
     
  10. Daniel
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    Daniel I'm sure you've heard the rumors. Founder Staff Contributor

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    Another thing to consider is that readers outside of the city you're describing might have no idea what the city is actually like and particular places in it unless you tell them. They might have a faint idea, but you can give them a new perspective on how it supposedly actually is by telling them what it's like, or you could make up a perspective that's much different than the real city, yet people might believe it and view it as a realistic representation of that city (unless they live in that city, of course).

    Obviously this depends a lot of what elements you're adding to the "real" city in your story and on what city or locations you choose. You're not going to be able to persuade anyone Detroit is a prospering metropolis if you're writing about Detroit today, but if you choose the right real location it might not even matter as much because people can re-imagine a city they probably have never been to as raw and real. If the city or a location inside it has a certain reputation or public perception, it makes sense to use that city or location if the perception is in line with your story, because it adds believability. If the real-life perception is different from what you're trying to do with your story, the real-world city's reputation is working against you. I think this is all true if we're talking specifically about using real cities, but a lot of it applies to using real locations.

    As for specifically using a real location like a restaurant - businesses close, change hands, and change vibes. I think that in the long-run it won't matter so much if we're talking real v. artificial locations within a city. I think writing about a real specific location you know can either help you make your writing more realistic, or it can limit your creativity.

    Regardless, I believe it's best to avoid the perception of generic and strive for the perception of real unless you have a reason to do otherwise, and you can create the perception of real through writing, even if the location isn't real. Most readers probably can't tell the difference. :p

    But that's just me thinking out loud and I might have gotten a little off track thinking specifically about cities, so don't read too much into it. ;)
     
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  11. live2write
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    live2write Contributing Member

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    I can write a story that takes place in Houston, TX without actually being there. It is just a location to give some ground. Now if my story is looking for a metropolis like NYC, I would place my story in that location.

    I like Daniel's post and I do agree for the most part. However, how many of your readers will be in that specific location and second most important, your book can take place at any time period. Just like the Marvel movies, they are modern as far as time period, however they are not realistic as far as it is happening now.
     
  12. Sheriff Woody
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    Sheriff Woody Active Member

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    This is an excellent approach, in my view. It allows you to use a real area, but also affords the freedom to explore as you wish. You get the best of both worlds.

    Also remember that most people reading your story won't know a real suburb from an imaginary one unless they looked it up. Is there a neighborhood of Chicago called Dunning? Unless you are personally acquainted with the area by living there or having relatives/friends who do, it's safe to assume a person would not know if it was real or made-up. What about Pittsburgh, Atlanta? Or Fineview, Pittsburgh? Most people don't have a clue.

    Make something up, tell your story, and have fun doing so. :)
     
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  13. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    Use real places especially if you know them. I actually moved my story from New York to Washington, DC because I live in DC and can write the local landscape and culture in detail. I'm also planting a subplot in Darwin, Australia primary because I am making plans to spend time there and therefore expect to be able to write it well in the future
     
  14. Commandante Lemming
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    Commandante Lemming Contributing Member Contributor

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    But I like your fake suburb - that's a good idea. I have real cities but a lot of fake corporations.
     
  15. Phil Waisome
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    Phil Waisome New Member

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    In my fantasy novel/short stories they take place on an alternate earth and more specifically an alternate African continent. I'm defo using real place names (both historical and modern day) and made up place names.
     

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