1. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

    Jan 28, 2014
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    Real Cities in Disguise?

    Discussion in 'Setting Development' started by Catrin Lewis, Feb 15, 2014.

    Nineteenth century authors had it so good. If they wanted to plunk down an imaginary city smack in the middle of Hertfordshire or Yorkshire, or if they wanted to create a fictionalized version of a real city, they could simply refer to "the large city of N---." Or write, "He went to the market town of M---."

    We can't do that in the 21st century. Not unless we're purposely trying to imitate the Brontes.

    So here's where I'm stuck. I have two novels going, one I call my Work in Revision and the other, my Work in Progress.

    The first part of the WIP takes place in Pittsburgh, altered with fictional touches of my own. So far I have it under a made-up name. That's because I worry that if I come right out and say "Pittsburgh," any potential readers will expect a certain culture, street layout, geography, institutions, and so on. But those things really aren't important for my MC; it's just a place she's moving away from as soon as her new home in the country is ready.

    Am I inventing a problem where there isn't one? How have any of you dealt with this?

    The harder problem is with the WIR. There I haven't named any cities at all, except for iconic ones like Boston and New York. The setting city I've been referring to as "the city," "the metroplex," "her [MC's] hometown," etc. I got away with it for awhile. But now that a major part of the action is taking place in the small university city where she studied as an undergraduate (which small city is in the orbit of "the city"), it's getting confusing as to which place the characters are speaking of. They refer to both, sometimes in the same paragraph. Not to mention it seems unnatural that they would never say the city names.

    (FYI, the setting is a medium to semi-large-sized American city in the lower Midwest (anywhere from Kansas City to Pittsburgh), with a major university within a hundred mile radius and a hilly/mountainous, rural, isolated, scenic area within a day's drive. Please note that I have my reasons for not picking and naming an actual city for this novel. I've done too much reinvention and rearranging of streets, buildings, etc., for one thing.)

    What do you say to my continuing to use the generic terms? Is there a city name generator out there that could help me find some names that might sound believably "big-city American"? Any other ideas?

  2. shadowwalker

    shadowwalker Contributor Contributor

    Jul 27, 2011
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    I don't see a problem. If it's not important for the first story that it's Pittsburgh, and the city in the second is totally fictional, then you make up names, just like you do for characters. If you can't think of something right now, just call it "XXX" until you think of something, then do a find/replace. (And even if you go with Pittsburgh, you are allowed poetic license, so don't worry about it.) Don't make it a bigger issue than it really is.
  3. Jak of Hearts

    Jak of Hearts Active Member

    Dec 22, 2013
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    Topeka, Kansas
    I personally think not referring to them by name would get confusing after a while. I often create fictional cities for my stories. A few that I reuse a lot are the fiction town of Grand Heights, Kansas and Spearhead, Oklahoma. I like to stray away from actual cities, especially if for some reason I need to name streets, buildings, etc. The way I do it is looking at existing towns in the area, bending/combining some names, and then google searching to make sure it doesn't already exist.
  4. thirdwind

    thirdwind Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

    Jul 17, 2008
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    If you're going for a big city, just use a real city. If you aren't going to mention many places, then you have no problem. It's also OK to drop fictional businesses into a large city. I don't think readers will care at all (I know I wouldn't).
  5. Bryan Romer

    Bryan Romer Contributor Contributor

    Jan 26, 2014
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    Gotham? Metropolis? Hardly 19th century inventions. Neither was 221B Baker Street.

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