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Author Topic: Q. Real Town or Fictitous Town?  (Read 12921 times)
delboy
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« on: January 11, 2010, 10:22:24 AM »

What are the pros and cons of choosing a (broadly) real setting as opposed to a fictional setting for one's stories? A lot of novels are set in London or New York or LA, but when it comes to smaller towns there seems to be a move to invent places rather than use real ones. Why is this? Are there any benefits or pitfalls to using or not using a real small town?

Derek
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« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2010, 11:23:23 AM »

Anonymity.

Who's to say what happens in London, or New York, or Brighton wasn't based on truth or was purely fiction? I 'incvented' Laverstone as a setting for all my tales, but if I said the town was, say, Chesterfield, everyone would think that Meinwen's Pagan Shop was "Curious Goods", say, and I'm make myself liable for all sorts of trouble.
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« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2010, 12:18:03 PM »

Personally, I like to use what Stephen King calls "a geographically incorrect" version of an exisiting place.  Leave enough suggestions as to where the place might be (if you never actually use the town's name) but add enough of your own ideas/geography to make it more 'your' place.  Of course, making up a completely fictional town also means you can make up the stories behind it (but then, I'm a massive fan of 'folklore' writers, such as Joe R Lansdale, and musicians such as Nick Cave).
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« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2010, 01:01:11 PM »

I do a bit of both. I use Durham quite a lot, because it's an incredible city and you don't need to make anything up about it. Most of my other places are amalgams of several where I've lived over the years. Even if you change the names and the details, I think you have to have a real place in your mind's eye for your writing to have authenticity.
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« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2010, 02:16:28 PM »

  I pretty much make up the settings for my stories, that way I don’t have to do any research on what a real place is like. afro It also gives the advantage of being able to place the characters in any given setting as the story progresses. They might find themselves in a wood on the edge of town, only twenty minutes drive time away from where the robbery took place. If the story was set in the heart of London that kind of scenario could cause a problem.

  I would only use a real town or city if the story absolutely had to be set in one, and even then I would manipulate the facts to suit the tale.

  I find writing hard enough without weighing myself down with geographical niceties.   smiley


   

     
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« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2010, 02:23:39 PM »

I think the town/city in a short story is more often than not, irrelevant. Unless the place has a direct bearing on the story then there's no need to mention specific places. Novels might be a little different, if you need to create a world for your characters to operate in.
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« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2010, 08:12:03 PM »

I tend to come up with fake name places but they are based on very real places that I have been to with people/settings I know.
There is a certain amount of anonymity with the fake place name BUT I feel more grounded in the story by making the fake place much like one I have lived in or been to.
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« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2010, 09:13:29 PM »

I think the advantage of having a place that's fictitious or only based on reality is if you need it to have something (a gothic church, a cinema in town, whatever) then it has one. If I wrote about Ashford where I live, I think the greyness of the place would suck all the life out of my writing.
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« Reply #8 on: January 12, 2010, 02:39:42 AM »

If I wrote about Ashford where I live, I think the greyness of the place would suck all the life out of my writing.

Ah, you mean, Ashford... the Vampire town! Abandon hope all ye that enter.
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« Reply #9 on: January 12, 2010, 01:42:51 PM »

Is using a fictitious genre specific? I couldn't imagine Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse being set in an imaginary town and having the same impact nor Iain Rankin's Rebus set somewhere other than Edinburgh.

On the other hand Stephen King did use Maine and Castle Rock quite often and imagine Bram Stoker’s Dracula not starting out in Whitby.

I think using what is appropriate for the story is a tact to use and will not denigrate the work.
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« Reply #10 on: January 12, 2010, 03:57:42 PM »

My instinct tells me to use a fictitous town, this would alleviate any problems. And were I writing a novel set in, say, Maine, I suspect the geography of the place would allow me to go east of Lewiston, north of Derry, and south of Castle Rock (or whatever the real places in Maine are) and easly find enough space in which to drop a brand new city. But here in the UK, especially in the area where I want to set this piece any place where's there's room to build a big house there's already five small houses. So I can't help but think if I drop a new town in here it's going to make the tale feel totally false from the off. A little Cotswold village, maybe? But a city with a pop. of 100 000, a riverside location, in the west of England?

Del


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« Reply #11 on: January 12, 2010, 07:05:57 PM »

mustn't have my stuff here, ed keeps it.
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« Reply #12 on: January 13, 2010, 08:35:50 PM »

If I wrote about Ashford where I live, I think the greyness of the place would suck all the life out of my writing.

Ah, you mean, Ashford... the Vampire town! Abandon hope all ye that enter.

Ashford, famed for its shared space scheme (see lethal to pedestrians), it's Eurostar terminal (that no one gets off at) and it's endless ringroad, like a gravity well in space that never lets you go. Come visit some time!
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« Reply #13 on: January 14, 2010, 06:17:49 AM »

My instinct tells me to use a fictitous town, this would alleviate any problems. And were I writing a novel set in, say, Maine, I suspect the geography of the place would allow me to go east of Lewiston, north of Derry, and south of Castle Rock (or whatever the real places in Maine are) and easly find enough space in which to drop a brand new city. But here in the UK, especially in the area where I want to set this piece any place where's there's room to build a big house there's already five small houses. So I can't help but think if I drop a new town in here it's going to make the tale feel totally false from the off. A little Cotswold village, maybe? But a city with a pop. of 100 000, a riverside location, in the west of England?

Del

Maybe if you made out like the town/city had always been there...?  Mention industrial links to a nearby real town, that sort of thing?  Or present the town/city as being an established industrial place itself (like it has a steel works or coal mine or whatever)...?
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« Reply #14 on: January 22, 2010, 06:50:43 PM »

I rarely use a real town for my stories unless there is a Historical link that is pivital to my tale. I find it more fun to invent a place, creating streets and businesses.
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« Reply #15 on: January 23, 2010, 05:19:39 AM »

Unless my setting is on another world or far in the future I prefer to use a real place for several reasons. As a teacher of geography and environmental science for 3 decades I became annoyed in the 70s and 80s when it became fashionable to teach using model towns. Hence we taught about Anyport, Anytown, etc. The pupils ended up knowing about theories but nothing much about real places. Secondly, I love reading a novel and re-discover places I've been to. I can relate then to the smells and culture not easy to impart in fiction. Thirdly, it gives me a great excuse to travel on research trips smiley All the places (This world) in my books, Escaping Reality, and Exit Pursued by a Bee, are real and I've had readers enjoy discovering their home or holiday places in the narrative.

Having said all that, it is also fun to create a place in our minds. On balance I will generally use real places - it goes to my core livelihood I suppose.

Geoff
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« Reply #16 on: January 23, 2010, 05:56:45 AM »

...and if you use real places, then people will be able to go on 'Geoff Nelder' literary tours. They can't do that if you use made up places.  azn
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« Reply #17 on: January 24, 2010, 04:59:53 AM »

...and if you use real places, then people will be able to go on 'Geoff Nelder' literary tours. They can't do that if you use made up places.  azn
Funny you should say that, Cathy. On my Escaping Reality support page is a map showing the route my protagonist took as a fugitive in winter across the Northumberland moors to the Lake District. I did the journey myself to pick up the vibes, smells, problems, etc and they Show in the narrative. here it is
http://www.geoffnelder.com/ERsupport.htm
A woman living in Canonbie, on the route, made me a Facebook friend because she felt my description including the convenience store in the shop was so realistic though she didn't think there was a drinks machine there. Next time she went there it way - ha. She said my depiction of the shopkeeper was on the nose. I didn't have the heart to tell her I'd not actually been in the shop!

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« Reply #18 on: January 24, 2010, 05:54:20 AM »

Well there you go! Truth is stranger than fiction...  grin
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« Reply #19 on: January 25, 2010, 07:06:14 AM »

I'm still undecided on this one. I keep trying to come up with a good name for a city, and a location that could be real yet where there isn't a town already. At the moment I'm really struggling. It's not holding back the story - I'm just ploughing on and simply not mentioning the city name. Later, when I have some scenes set in a small village it's not a problem. I can drop a fictitous village into a hundred places round here. But a city... I find it rather odd that I'm struggling with this so much.

Derek
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« Reply #20 on: January 25, 2010, 07:24:24 AM »

It's a pity you can't use the old Victorian method of using a capital letter followed by a long dash for anonymous city names.
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« Reply #21 on: January 26, 2010, 03:10:45 PM »

I sometimes use a corrupted name of a village or town that exists in the area where my fictional village or town exists, if that helps?  Then you can put it where the real one is.  Although, if we're being picky, this then means the story exists in an alternate reality to this one, even if nothing happens to suggest it's NOT this reality.  Arrrghhhh my head
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