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  1. leostar

    leostar New Member

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    Using a real restaurant in a story?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by leostar, Jan 15, 2017.

    Hi - I am a relatively beginner writer, and was looking for a little bit of advice.

    A character in my short story lives in the Upper East Side of New York. When I write about things happening in a real place/city, I like to explore it in google maps and get a feel for where they live. I have visited New York before so have an idea of the feel, but not the exact area she lives in.

    I ended up choosing a spot for her apartment, and just by chance found a restaurant that fit with the theme (a small vegan restaurant), and wanted to send my characters there. Since then, I have described the restaurant using pictures and street view, and actually referenced their real menu. I wanted the descriptions to feel authentic.

    Would it be better for me to just take inspiration from this place, rather than the actual thing, and change the name and give it some key differences? Or do you think it's totally okay to write about that specific place?
     
  2. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributing Member

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    I used the names of real restaurants, chefs and menu items in my first novel with no problem. I felt it gave the book a lot more realism, and every time I see one of those places on a food show I get ridiculously excited. Hell's Kitchen featured The Roof on Wilshire on one episode, and I squeeed like a little girl when I recognized it as the same place I set the first cooking challenge in Under the Knife.

    My current WIP is set in the city I live just on the outskirts of, and I plan on using all real places for that one as well.
     
  3. leostar

    leostar New Member

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    Laurin, did you visit the place that you used in your novel before you wrote it?
     
  4. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributing Member

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    Oh man, I wish! It's in Los Angeles and is super high-end, so no. But I spend inordinate amounts of time watching TV shows and documentaries about food and restaurants, and read a lot of non-fiction on the subject as well. I've never been to any of the real-life restaurants featured in UTK. The closest I got was I ate at Geoffrey's in Malibu once, which is where one of my side characters worked as a line cook, but I don't have any scenes set there.
     
  5. big soft moose

    big soft moose Contributing Member

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    This came up before a couple of months ago, and the general consensus was that its fine to use real places if its innocuous e.g if your characters are just going there for a meal they enjoy or for coffee or whatever.

    However if you are going to write anything that could be libelous or actionable like unpleasant staff, poor customer service, or finding half a grey hound in the fridge then its better to make it a fictitious establishment
     
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  6. DueNorth

    DueNorth Active Member

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    I agree with @Laurin Kelly and @big soft moose that you certainly "can" use a real restaurant for your scene, and perhaps you can even describe it quite adequately from descriptions you find in print or photographs or even videos online without ever actually being there yourself.

    However, just something to think about, if you choose a setting that is an actual place (this is of course true not just of restaurants) you are bound by the factual truth. You may wish to fabricate elements that, whether flattering or libelous, are simply not true. Truth can be confining, fiction liberating (as relates to novels, not relationships).
     
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  7. big soft moose

    big soft moose Contributing Member

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    Of course a third option is to use a real location and fabricate parts of it - this is common in Barry Eisler's books, and he always puts some sort of declaration in the authors note at the back (you still have to be careful about writing anything libellous)
     
  8. AgentBen

    AgentBen Member

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    I'd change the name slightly. You don't have to if the business is extremely well-known as for example, nearly every uses an Apple iPhone you could reference that with I presume no consequences.

    If you character doesn't like the restaurant, I'd keep the negativity to a minimum. However it seems your character likes the restaurant so you might be okay.
     
  9. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributing Member

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    I usually reference American Psycho as the most real life name dropping of places, people and things I've ever seen in a book. It's practically non-stop through the novel, and it didn't seem to do Bret Easton Ellis too much harm.
     
  10. Spencer1990

    Spencer1990 Contributing Member

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    I'm not sure negative mention of an existing company would be damaging for the author. I mean, sure, if you wrote a novel for the sole purpose of slandering a specific company, you might get some trouble, but how many of us are trying to do that? And that's assuming the company even hears about the work which is pretty unlikely.

    There's huge benefit for using an existing place, mentioning an existing item. There is work that's already done. I don't have to describe what the inside of a Walmart looks like. I can spend those words on story. If I made up a place to look like Walmart, people would picture Walmart anyway (assuming I've done my job as an author). So, what's the point in not using existing places?

    All of that said, it really depends on what you're writing and what effect you're trying to achieve. There is benefit in making up fictional locations as well.
     
  11. DueNorth

    DueNorth Active Member

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    I'm not suggesting that the issue is liability--I don't think it is. You have a good deal of latitude in criticizing businesses, and slander is a difficult case to make. I doubt that you'd have any sort of trouble because your fictional character in your made-up story has some pretend incident in your novel in some real restaurant.

    The point I am making is that when you are describing an actual place--that you have never been to--you had better darn well be describing it accurately because people who have been there (especially who live by it) will love to find fault with your inaccuracies. AND, once you portray your restaurant scene as taking place in a particular, real-life restaurant, you are bound by the truth of that setting. You certainly are free to choose to do it--or not.
     
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  12. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin Contributing Member

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    Are they rich? You're talking major dollars in that NYC hood...
     
  13. jannert

    jannert Contributing Member Supporter Contributor

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    I think using a real place as the setting for or in a story is fine, no matter what kind of a place it is. However, making up stuff ABOUT the real place probably isn't on. If characters use the restaurant to meet up with each other, that should be fine. If your story is about a waitress who works there and has an affair with the boss, better disguise the location with another name for the restaurant and another (fictional) street address.
     
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  14. big soft moose

    big soft moose Contributing Member

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    Mclibel anyone ? Supersize with fries ? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/McLibel_case

    The original Mclibel was about a fact sheet distributed to less than 100 people, imagine if it had been in a book with a distribution of say 20 thousand.

    Also while defamation is a difficult win (Mclibel wound up as a split decision) its also a money pit for lawyers fees - the Mclibel two spent over £30k fighting their case - and macdonalds or whoever can afford much better lawyers than the average author.
     
  15. DueNorth

    DueNorth Active Member

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    The so-called "McLibel" case is entirely a "horse of a different color." That was a case where an environmental group published a "fact sheet" the purpose of which was to attack a business and that group did so with clearly erroneous information (and malicious intent). A more direct analogy would be a restaurant reviewer who is critical of a restaurant is not at risk of libel. But, to Jannert's point, if you make up things about implied real people, oh,oh!

    Once again though, my primary point is not about libel, it is about the disadvantage of using a setting you have not personally seen and experienced and being in a position to accurately portray it to a reader. My bias, obviously--I prefer making things up!
     
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  16. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Concerns are often more on the trademark side, and in particular with the cost of defense. Well-known authors do use business names, however.
     

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