Author Topic: Real places in works of fiction  (Read 1413 times)

munboy

Real places in works of fiction
« on: October 10, 2018, 02:33:58 AM »
I've seen threads about this on other forums, but I'm still on the fence when it comes to it.

For my new book, a sequel, I'm moving the action from the closest "big" city and a fictitious high school to my considerably smaller home town (at least partially). So, the city will be real, but I'm waffling on whether to use one of the local high schools or make up a fake one. I used a fake high school in the previous book because it is partially destroyed and didn't want to put that stigma on a real school, but in the new book, the high school is only a backdrop and none of the main action will take place there.

Should I go ahead and use a real local one or make one up? What do you think?
 

RPatton

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #1 on: October 10, 2018, 02:56:02 AM »
I've seen threads about this on other forums, but I'm still on the fence when it comes to it.

For my new book, a sequel, I'm moving the action from the closest "big" city and a fictitious high school to my considerably smaller home town (at least partially). So, the city will be real, but I'm waffling on whether to use one of the local high schools or make up a fake one. I used a fake high school in the previous book because it is partially destroyed and didn't want to put that stigma on a real school, but in the new book, the high school is only a backdrop and none of the main action will take place there.

Should I go ahead and use a real local one or make one up? What do you think?

Unless you know it inside and out. Don't use a real location. Don't even use a real location and plant the made up stuff inside the real location. It's one of those things that only has negatives, meaning it doesn't attract readers, but it might turn a few off. Some readers, me in particular, happen to get annoyed when someone writers about a location and gets most of it wrong. I spent a good 30 minutes yelling at book because they kept on getting all the big facts about the city wrong. And not just wrong, we're talking really wrong. No one lives on the east side of Chicago. Living n the east side of Chicago would mean living in Lake Michigan. The book was good, even really good, but I gave up half way through because none of the facts were right. Like even the location of the museums were all off.
 

guest215

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Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #2 on: October 10, 2018, 03:05:42 AM »
For a school, I'd make up a fake one. It's too micro. Too much risk of branding it one way or another by what you're writing.
 

Lex

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #3 on: October 10, 2018, 04:34:36 AM »
I use real places all the time. It seems to be the norm for thrillers. Most of them are places I've never been to. I don't do meticulous research, but I do some.

I've have several readers comment favorably about the accuracy. And yet I know for a fact that there are inaccuracies. (There's no Tim Hortons in Vegas, for example, but I wanted one there, so I put one there.) It is fiction, after all.

If someone wants to quit reading my book because I mention a McDonald's on the corner of 4th and Main, and there's no McDonald's on 4th and Main, then so be it.
 
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Wifey

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #4 on: October 10, 2018, 05:19:37 AM »
I use real places most of the time. If I donít, the location will still be based on a real place. But I do a ton of research. I download and save pictures and maps. Iíll lookup the local newspaper, blogs, and youtube videos. Iíll take road trips if the location isnít too far. Itís all part of the fun.
« Last Edit: October 10, 2018, 05:25:31 AM by Wifey »
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LilyBLily

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #5 on: October 10, 2018, 05:35:44 AM »
I've seen threads about this on other forums, but I'm still on the fence when it comes to it.

For my new book, a sequel, I'm moving the action from the closest "big" city and a fictitious high school to my considerably smaller home town (at least partially). So, the city will be real, but I'm waffling on whether to use one of the local high schools or make up a fake one. I used a fake high school in the previous book because it is partially destroyed and didn't want to put that stigma on a real school, but in the new book, the high school is only a backdrop and none of the main action will take place there.

Should I go ahead and use a real local one or make one up? What do you think?

Unless you know it inside and out. Don't use a real location. Don't even use a real location and plant the made up stuff inside the real location. It's one of those things that only has negatives, meaning it doesn't attract readers, but it might turn a few off. Some readers, me in particular, happen to get annoyed when someone writers about a location and gets most of it wrong. I spent a good 30 minutes yelling at book because they kept on getting all the big facts about the city wrong. And not just wrong, we're talking really wrong. No one lives on the east side of Chicago. Living n the east side of Chicago would mean living in Lake Michigan. The book was good, even really good, but I gave up half way through because none of the facts were right. Like even the location of the museums were all off.

Yes, that burns me up. That lousy rock song about the east side of Chicago. And a Lee Child book I read referred to the "L." Uh, no.

I have no reluctance about making up imaginary buildings in real cities. That's what the author disclaimer is for.
 
I did use a real high school name in one of my books just to explain where my character had played football decades before, and I mentioned the name of a very small town, too, but none of the action took place there. The town the story is set in is entirely made up: believable but not real.
 

Oh_cabanaboy

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #6 on: October 10, 2018, 05:36:08 AM »
This is so timely - Iíve just been planning out my next project and have chosen to set it in my hometown, partly because itís lovely and I know it, and partly as an excuse to research the history of where I live for my MCs history/ghost tours! HOWEVER - thereís a storyline that involves university students, and thereís only one uni in my town. And I work in it. Is it too ridiculous to make up a university in a small town that only has one?! (I work in Comms - I canít be the one dragging its good name through the mud with muderous connotations  :angel:)
 

Dormouse

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #7 on: October 10, 2018, 05:48:26 AM »
I prefer real places - but only if accurate.
If a writer knows a place in depth, the writing is likely to be better (whether the names are correct or not).
 
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NathanBurrows

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #8 on: October 10, 2018, 06:12:20 AM »
The locations in my books are all very real. I know them intimately, and while there's a bit of artistic licence taken with a few of them, I want the reader to see what I see.

munboy

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #9 on: October 10, 2018, 06:32:16 AM »
I prefer real places - but only if accurate.
If a writer knows a place in depth, the writing is likely to be better (whether the names are correct or not).

I know the place well. I live a mile from it. My daughter went to it for the first 2 years of high school. I've been to it a couple times as a writer to talk to classes. In the past, I've based fictitious places off real places, just changed the name. I'm just hesitant to use real names.
 

DrewMcGunn

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #10 on: October 10, 2018, 06:54:12 AM »
Although my stories are set 170 years in the past, I research what I can and make up the rest as close as what I can find. A fair amount of my story is set in San Antonio. I've read everything I can find on the town at that period and I have downloaded every map I could find, so I've stayed as close as possible to what I've been able to ascertain, at least before I start changing things. :icon_cool:

There's another author who writes books similar to me (much more popular guy... the jerk :icon_rofl:) and he took a real town and then changed the name of the town, and basically fictionalized it. He used everything in the real town to provide frames of reference, but at the end, the town in the book was fictitious, even if meticulously researched.


Drew McGunn
 

KFaitour

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #11 on: October 10, 2018, 07:22:34 AM »
You know, I live near Milwaukee and we reference the "east side" all the time. The east side of the city--not east OF the city, which would be Lake Michigan. That's interesting.

I write real cities with fictitious places in them. Sometimes those are an amalgam of real places, all mish-mashed together to suit what I'm going for. Kinda like real people informing characters--I pick and choose traits but haven't (and wouldn't) actually base a character closely to a person. Most people just aren't that interesting, I suppose.

 :hehe

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Crystal

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #12 on: October 10, 2018, 07:55:32 AM »
I've DNFed many books for LA or NYC inaccuracies. In fact, it's more often a book gets it wrong than right. I don't think most people notice but I just can't with that.

If you know the place inside and out, I'd go real but without having specifics (i.e. the coffee shop by UCI rather than the Peet's Coffee next to the Trader Joe's, you know, the one open until 11).
 
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guest390

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Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #13 on: October 10, 2018, 09:00:50 AM »
If it's real, it needs to be accurate. Mainly to avoid angry emails from the residents. If it's somewhere you haven't been, you could do enough research to get by, so long as you didn't make the town and its layout central to the story. Check out the pictures on the web. Contact a few residents if you think it would help. And most towns have a website. A picture of the streets and houses could be enough, again depending on the amount of detail you need to tell the story. If it is set in New Orleans, but the whole thing takes place inside a home, you'd only have to know the basics of the city. 
As for people, I'd steer clear. Unless it's non-fiction and you have documentation to back up what you say about them, you could find yourself in a lot of trouble.
 

Vijaya

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #14 on: October 10, 2018, 10:07:46 AM »
I use real places all the time but change shops or buildings to suit my story. I usually know the place well and if not, research enough to get a good sense. What I find is that the place itself becomes a character and story-people are affected by the place they grow up, where they are going. As a reader, I don't mind fictitious places or buildings, as long as I feel grounded in the story. That is the key for me. I need to be able to picture it.

Author of over 60 books and 60 magazine pieces, primarily for children
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Jo

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #15 on: October 10, 2018, 08:33:53 PM »
I use real places a lot of time, but only places I've been to and know well. I've travelled to a few places I wrote about for research, too. If I haven't been somewhere for a long time I try to find a betareader of that region.
Jo
 

C. Gockel

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #16 on: October 13, 2018, 01:30:41 PM »
For a school, I'd make up a fake one. It's too micro. Too much risk of branding it one way or another by what you're writing.

I would always make up the name of any school where humans under the age of 18 are in attendance. As a parent, I wouldn't like my kids' school described too well in a book.

That said ... if you're writing about universities, you may not want to invent one. People will email you and say how you got it wrong, that school in X state that is known for Y is Z and is located at Q.


I write books about Change, Chaos, and Loki
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Robin

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #17 on: October 24, 2018, 09:18:56 PM »
I prefer making up locations. At least then I don't have to worry about accuracy and it's quite exciting creating a whole new place.
 

dgcasey

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Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #18 on: October 25, 2018, 03:53:43 AM »
I prefer making up locations. At least then I don't have to worry about accuracy and it's quite exciting creating a whole new place.

I have a series of stories that is set in and around Nebraska, but all the town names are completely made up. I don't even refer to real highway or street names.

Oh, and I've never been to Nebraska, but that's what's so wonderful about Google Street View. I can get a really good idea about a location just by going for a ride in the Google car.
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Robin

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #19 on: October 25, 2018, 04:07:00 AM »
I prefer making up locations. At least then I don't have to worry about accuracy and it's quite exciting creating a whole new place.

I have a series of stories that is set in and around Nebraska, but all the town names are completely made up. I don't even refer to real highway or street names.

Oh, and I've never been to Nebraska, but that's what's so wonderful about Google Street View. I can get a really good idea about a location just by going for a ride in the Google car.

That's a great tip about Google Street View!
 

JRTomlin

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #20 on: October 25, 2018, 04:30:00 AM »
There will be people who will complain even when you get it right and swear you have it wrong. I've had this happen too.
 

okey dokey

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #21 on: October 31, 2018, 03:41:25 AM »
QUOTE:
". . . dragging its good name through the mud with muderous connotations"


That isn't a concern that would keep me awake at night.
Agatha Christie wrote Murder On the Orient Express
Margaret Truman did Murder At the Smithsonian, Murder At the Met, Murder At the Kennedy Center, Murder in the Supreme Court, Murder At the National Gallery, etc.

I don't think those real places felt their good names were dragged through the mud.


 
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Oh_cabanaboy

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #22 on: October 31, 2018, 05:41:48 AM »
QUOTE:
". . . dragging its good name through the mud with muderous connotations"


That isn't a concern that would keep me awake at night.
Agatha Christie wrote Murder On the Orient Express
Margaret Truman did Murder At the Smithsonian, Murder At the Met, Murder At the Kennedy Center, Murder in the Supreme Court, Murder At the National Gallery, etc.

I don't think those real places felt their good names were dragged through the mud.

This is very true indeed. And to be honest I canít say itís been keeping me awake. I have a baby for that  :icon_eek:
 

JRTomlin

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #23 on: October 31, 2018, 10:53:25 AM »
I use real places but making a real restaurant that gives people food poisoning as an example might cause some problems. The Orient Express did not have the train crash or lose its wheels, so there was no insult to the railway.
 

fferyllt

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #24 on: November 03, 2018, 03:36:12 AM »
My concern is real locations in which hideous crimes occur. I set my mystery series in a world-renowned location. I think using the real buildings that house the real homicide sites would be powerfully authenticating for a reader. But I worry that the possibility of a great read might be lost on those who own or steward the actual spots. I always start out using real, famous locations--and then chicken out and turn them into new names/still identifiable locations for those who know. Even so, not completely confident that protects me from any blowback. Does anyone else wrestle with this? 
 

TinkSaid

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #25 on: November 07, 2018, 11:09:45 PM »
My concern is real locations in which hideous crimes occur. I set my mystery series in a world-renowned location. I think using the real buildings that house the real homicide sites would be powerfully authenticating for a reader. But I worry that the possibility of a great read might be lost on those who own or steward the actual spots. I always start out using real, famous locations--and then chicken out and turn them into new names/still identifiable locations for those who know. Even so, not completely confident that protects me from any blowback. Does anyone else wrestle with this?

This is me, right now. Started out with a London park, where I know there's a pretty little twelfth century church hidden away. It seemed ideal to have one body found in a nearby murky river, and a collection of baby's bones uncovered in the decommissioned graveyard.  Except there's a group of folk who work hard to keep the church in good repair, and regularly host concerts there ... have renamed both the park and church. :/
 

dgcasey

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Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #26 on: November 08, 2018, 01:57:23 AM »
This is me, right now. Started out with a London park, where I know there's a pretty little twelfth century church hidden away. It seemed ideal to have one body found in a nearby murky river, and a collection of baby's bones uncovered in the decommissioned graveyard.  Except there's a group of folk who work hard to keep the church in good repair, and regularly host concerts there ... have renamed both the park and church. :/

That's when you model the park and church after one you know, but you change the names in your book and a few characteristics to make sure your church and park aren't identifiable.
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Bill Hiatt

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Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #27 on: November 08, 2018, 02:47:53 AM »
I use real places in the background, but I do enough research to make sure what little I say about the place is accurate.

There is also a good rule of thumb for trademarked names that also applies in general. You can use real things if the reference is positive or neutral. If it's going to be negative in any way, you really must create a fictional thing instead.

It's also probably better to fictionalize if very much of the action is going to take place in a particular locale. I sometimes have characters pass through real locations, but I don't use the same real location for more than a very small part of the book.


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spin52

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #28 on: November 13, 2018, 03:15:26 AM »
I prefer real places - but only if accurate.
If a writer knows a place in depth, the writing is likely to be better (whether the names are correct or not).
My first two series are set in my hometown of Seattle. One actually has a sort of treasure hunt through the city, and one reviewer praised the 'rich sense of place'. I did avoid mentioning specific business names, etc., although they could be guessed by anyone who knows the city.
My Victorian series is set in the market town near where I live, and I've done a lot of research to make sure it's as accurate as possible. The local historical society has been very helpful, and I posted photos on my FB page of places referred to in the books, which readers seemed to like.
In both cases, if something is going to be presented in a negative light, I change the name, and put a disclaimer in the front of the book.
     

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kdiem

Re: Real places in works of fiction
« Reply #29 on: November 20, 2018, 01:30:04 AM »
I use a mix.

My preferred method is to never name exactly where people are and describe only what the reader needs to know.

If I say it's a franchise coffee shop with slick branding and bored teenage baristas or a no frills hole-in-the-wall taqueria/tequileria that plays loud Vicente Fernandez, does the reader need the names? Generally, no. Local readers or area aficionados might recognize a few places that needed to be somewhat specific (a New York island of unmarked graves), but no names.

If the location is a recurring one where NOT saying the name or address would be awkward, I usually make up a fake name. F