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  1. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    Real and Imaginary locations

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Flamenco1, Sep 14, 2020.

    Where do you draw the line between real and imaginary locations?

    (UK based) I’m writing a story about an Englishman from his birth in Stockport (near Manchester), just before WW2, up to him being 48 and happily living in Kendal (a market town in the Lake District).

    The plot leans heavily, and in equal amounts, on his time living in a small coastal, and very historical, Scottish village (from age 3 to 18), and his time living in Kendall (age 26 to 48).

    For good reasons (I think) I want to keep the Scottish village, with its castle, maze, lime kiln, fishermen and view of Ailsa Craig, as real as possible. Perhaps because I’d have a hard time creating such a place ;). Only the house of his great aunt needs to be imaginary.

    But equally for good reasons (I think) I’ve changed Kendal into an imaginary market town. It gives me more flexibility with plots, both in this book and any follow ups, as much as anything else. And I wouldn’t want readers who know Kendall to be playing ‘spot the error’.

    I’m wondering if by varying the differentiation between real and imagined locations, one might course any problems for the reader. Or if there are any known pitfalls related to this.

    The same thought might equally apply I guess to events. The Christmas bombing of Stockport in 1940 I describe with a great deal of historical accuracy. The storm that battered the Ayrshire coastline, killing many, is entirely imaginary. Although I’m more comfortable with that.

    I’d welcome any thoughts.
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2020
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  2. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Contributor Contributor

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    Fictional places are pretty common in fiction, even when real locations are also involved.

    Agatha Christie's Miss Marple lived in the fictional village of St. Mary Mead.

    Jessica Fletcher (Murder She Wrote) lived in the extremely dangerous town of Cabot Cove.

    Various Stephen King characters live in Castle Rock, Maine.

    Tintin often visits the entirely fictional Eastern European countries of Sylvania and Borduria.

    Hercules Poirot is from the fictional country of Belgium.

    OK, I may have made that last one up.
     
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  3. Wreybies

    Wreybies Thrice Retired Supporter Contributor

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    The biggest pitfall is the very common fixation that the places in question are as known to the prospective reader as they are to the writer. Simple maths tells us that is never the case since the overwhelmingly vast majority of all people live in other places, no matter the place we pick.

    And even when the inaccuracies are noticed, I feel like concerning oneself with the minuscule sliver of people who fall into both Venn circles - those who read your story & those who have personal knowledge of the setting - is a bit of a faff.

    For example: In Jeff VanderMeer's Southern Reach trilogy, the second book is mostly concerned with a chase up the Southeastern coast of the United States. I know this slice of America very well, and what VanderMeer describes is not remotely correct. He describes a coast much more akin to the Pacific Northwest, to include a scene that focuses on a starfish that doesn't occur in in the southeast, but it is present in the northwest.

    These books are not about the Southeast coast of America. The flub is of no importance and unless you know that area of America, doubtful one would even give it more than a moment's thought.

    Another example is Mary Doria Russell's novel The Sparrow. There's a scene that takes place in La Perla, a favela in San Juan, Puerto Rico; a place I am quite familiar with. It is not a safe place for tourists, nor for the uninitiated local who's got no business in there other than getting into trouble. But instead of that, Russell paints a brightly colored Spanish Colonial enclave of beautiful brown children playing the simple, joyous games of the humble and charming culture just waiting to invite tourists into their homes to show them the delights of life in a post-colonial world.

    Bullshit. La Perla is a very poor, historically "redlined" area of San Juan renowned as a hotspot for drug activity and other crime. I live here and I am ethnically a local. You're not catching my ass in there when the sun goes down.

    But again, The Sparrow is not about the inequity of a redlined area of San Juan. It's about first contact with an alien species funded by the Catholic Church, thus of a decidedly ecclesiastic lean. I may have squirmed a bit under the patronizing tone Russell takes in her description (perhaps she meant to be kind), but is this something you would have known?
     
    Last edited: Sep 14, 2020
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  4. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    Naomasa298 and Wreybies, many thanks for your inputs. Much appreciated.

    Maybe I should have stressed that I’m trying to recreate for my readers a realistic view of the locations where my plot plays out. This I feel is important as it is those locations that not only help mould the characters, but are moulded by the characters who originate from them.

    Even when I invent a location I want it to reflect a logical mixture of realities, and thus for the reader, be a reality.

    But that aside my main concern lies in that, in this current project, I’m not using the same rules for the invented Kendal as I am for the very real Dunure.

    One potential pitfall that has been offered to me (since I posted here) is that the times the MC spends in the two main locations are to be treated as very similar in many ways, even compared. But if one is real and one not, will I be able to maintain the required style of descriptive writing for both. Maybe if I was a highly experienced writer, but I’m not.

    This pitfall makes me think I should, at first draft, invent a Dunure replacement.

    I must say I couldn’t knowingly inaccurately describe a known and named location. What would be the point.

    But I take the point about the error checkers being not numerically sufficient to worry about – but it would still bug me if I left the errors I was aware of..
     
  5. Naomasa298

    Naomasa298 Contributor Contributor

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    Base it on a real location that you're familiar with, and alter the details to suit.
     
  6. David K. Thomasson

    David K. Thomasson Senior Member

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    Just make it clear that you're taking some descriptions from actual places, but it's all fiction. I placed this little note before the text of the novel:

    This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, organizations, places, events, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events, or locales is entirely coincidental. [emphasis added]

    Having said that, I would strive for accuracy regarding actual details. In one of Ridley Pearson's novels, he set a scene at Union Station in Washington, DC, and mentioned the station's "40-foot ceiling." The ceiling is actually 93 feet, so that was a glaring error; he should have taken the time to check. On the other hand, I think it's fine to create fictional scenes in real places. In The First Impression I placed a fictional church (the scene of a murder) on an actual and very well-known residential avenue. Some readers who knew that avenue told me they had fun trying to figure out where the church was.
     
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  7. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll Contributor Contributor

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    I usually only name Sci-fi cities/towns/etc. cause then being
    accurate only falls down to basically hitting the longitude and
    latidudes (if they apply) given most of my work takes place
    in space or on different planets.
    As for contemporary stories, I just describe bits of the town
    and never actually name it, so it could be anywhere and still
    fit given the details. :)

    But yeah, it doesn't matter if you actually name a fictional town
    in a place that really exists, cause lots seem to do it already, and
    they don't bother to preface it with saying that it is a made up place
    in give state, county, country. Obviously if they look it up on a map
    and don't find it, will be more than proof that it doesn't exist. :p
     
  8. OurJud

    OurJud Contributor Contributor

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    I work in Marple/Stockport, and live within 15 minutes of the place. Coincidently my current WiP also has characters travelling to Kendal. Doubly coincidentally, your concerns are exactly those of mine when writing about places I've never been or know little about. I'd love to write a road-trip novel based in America, but it's just too daunting a prospect because I know so little about the place.

    Anyway, I suppose what I'm saying is I'm probably not the best to advie, as I have very similar hang-ups. What I can say is that my last attempt at a novel (a road-trip based in the UK) used fictional towns, but that was probably down to a reluctance to do my research more than anything. Unquestionably, though, another main reason was fear of readers thinking "What!? [Such a place] is nothing like that!"

    One very good reason for fictional locations is the fact no one can question them. No one is that well travelled, even in their own country, and providing your place names sound authentic, 98% of readers will simply assume it's a place they've never been to. The other 2% will open google maps and look for the places, but then there'll always be those people.
     
    Last edited: Oct 10, 2020
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  9. Laurin Kelly

    Laurin Kelly Contributor Contributor

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    I've only ever used real places in my books. I have a pretty wide online network of friends/acquaintances who are willing to offer input and even beta reading when I'm writing places I've never been. I find that setting my stories in real cities/towns helps ground the contemporary, slice of life vible that I'm going for.

    I've never received a review where the inaccuracy of my location was mentioned in a bad way. There's nothing wrong with using a fictional name as the stand-in for a real place, but it's not something I've ever felt was necessary.
     
  10. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    Thanks to all for your thought provoking comments. Most useful for a starter like me.

    I’ve tried a few tests writing short scenes based on real locations, and locations entirely based on my imagination.

    When using an imagined location I find it very easy to only write about what is important to the plot.

    With a location I know I find it very easy to overwrite. And while accepting what has been said about not needing to be accurate it still nags at me.

    So for now I’m going to use imagined locations for the two places where most of the action takes place. But keep WW2 Stockport as it is really part of the prologue and is not revisited.

    Hopefully at some future date you’ll get to comment on how I do. Cheers
     
  11. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I don't think you really need such a disclaimer. It's not something you see in many works of fiction. It reminds me of the opening of Law & Order SVU. I kind of think it looks silly and amateurish. Also, there is always some truth in fiction and it's not usually a coincidence.
     
  12. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    I'm already doing it. Would that be the village of Dunure? Castle, maze, lime kiln, fishermen, Ailsa Craig? :)
     
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  13. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    Yes. A magical place. :cool:
     
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  14. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Do be aware, though, that the maze is very recent. As in 'built in 2008 using a grant from the Council.' I'm not sure if it replaces an older one, though.

    I was there a few years ago and got some great photos of the castle, the maze and the sunset. Beautiful place.
     
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  15. Flamenco1

    Flamenco1 Member

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    Jannert I can assure you that Sargeant Jim Reynolds saw Big Ted's body lying in the centre of the maze in 1955! The Pagan group saw it as well.

    Or maybe that was something I imagined ....................................... ;)

    Trouble with thinking about the plot many hours a day, I soon lose sight of what is reality, and what is fiction :meh:
     
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  16. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Maybe it was a spectral maze? A glimpse of the future? (Or the distant past?) :)

    Sounds better than, "The Cooncil gie'd me the money tae build it, back in 2008."
     
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  17. Partridge

    Partridge Active Member

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    Honestly, don't worry, it happens all the time.

    My Book is set mostly in Bournemouth but my character lives in a fictional block of flats on a fictional road. There's also a fictional medical centre called Pine View which I'm about to write about.
    My MC's Dad lives in Central London, with a view of Hyde Park, but on a fictional road, in another fictional apartment block.
    I'd be more concerned about getting an authentic feel for the area in your writing. If you can replicate that feel in your fictional sections, I don't see it presenting a problem.
     
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  18. DriedPen

    DriedPen New Member

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    I keep it pretty simple: If I am writing a fictional book about a place and my general description is that it is a nice place, then I will use the real name of the town because people can relate to it, and readers can go to a map and see, "hey, it is right there." Maybe they will someday contribute to the town's economy by visiting it?

    But if my writing paints the town in a bad way, like being dirty, or unsafe to live, then I make a fake name for it.

    It just goes back to, "how would you like your town depicted in a book?" Be nice, and you seldom get into trouble.
     
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