Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Imaginary Places

Yesterday I was kind of amazed at how many of you have set stories in real places, and even built stories around settings. I'm impressed.

Okay, so I'm going to be very honest here. Setting a story in a real place scares me. I mean, what if I get it wrong? What if people from the place I've written about catch all of my mistakes and tell me my description sucks? What if I can't bend my story to fit around a place that's real? These are probably irrational fears (or maybe not), but they are real fears for me at least.

The setting for Underground came entirely from my imagination. It's set in a small, fictional town in the U.S. with cookie cutter neighborhoods, an abandoned steel mill, and a very small police force. I tried briefly to find an actual city that would meet the needs of the story, but I couldn't find anything that would work just right (and I was afraid of all the things I listed above).

Do any of you non-fantasy/sci-fi writers make up settings? And do those of you who write about real places let the setting dictate what can and can't be done in your story? I am so curious.

18 comments:

Vonna said...

Though my WIP is a fantasy, it is set in a real place. I love researching my locations; I think details help the story come to life. However, my current research has thrown me a stumbling block. Something that I want to happen would never in reality happen in this location.

But my critique partners assure me it works for the story, sand since it is fantasy, it's okay. Yea!

MattDel said...

I think I said yesterday that I wanted to set a story in Salem, Mass of the late 1800s. The good thing is that I live in the area, so I have access to extensive documentation about the city that will help me make sure I don't fall into any of those perils.

Valid fears all, though. Which is where research/talking to natives helps, if the opportunity presents itself.

MeganRebekah said...

My current novel, Anomaly, takes place just outside of Tampa. At first it worked great. I lived in the area for eight years, and know it well. Then I started running into problems, mostly with the town's layout. I needed their to be certain things in certain places, and it doesn't quite add up. And I lived there for eight years, so people would be able to hold those inaccuracies against me.

Next time I decide to do a real town, I'll pick one further away, that I've never lived in.

I think for the most part though, towns are forgiving and appreciate being included. Forks advertises itself as being the setting of Twilight.

But if you were to chose something well-known, like NYC, the geography at least would have to be accurate.

Marybeth Poppins said...

I like you am way to worried about getting it wrong. So I tend to make up my own places :)

Eileen Astels Watson said...

The actual towns that my characters live in are fictional because I combine a combination of towns to create one that works best for my story, but I always place them around real cities to give a geographical take. I think if you're going to use a real town that you would want to know it inside and out to avoid making mistakes.

Anita Saxena said...

Natalie, I too worry about getting things wrong. Currently, I'm working on a chase scene through London. I've been there before, but for accuracy sake, I do refer to Google Maps quite a bit frequently.

Tamika: said...

Hi Natalie!

My fear is the exact opposite- I am afraid of creating a location. It never occured to me until recently that this was even a practice.

My WIP is set in two settings, Texas and North Carolina. I live in Texas and visited North Carolina a few weeks ago for the first time.

Blessings to you...

Patti said...

i agree that's why I don't think I'll ever use a real place.

L. T. Host said...

My first WIP is set in Roman/ Germanic Europe. It's a Fantasy. I picked a location where the events could have occurred, but of course didn't. I made up the rest, incuding the villages at that location, etc.

My current WIP in too charged for me to set it in a real town. I have other, not-so-charged events happening in real towns around my fictional town, but the town where most of my action takes place is completely made up. I don't want any backlash if it ever gets published :)

staceyjwarner said...

Hi, popping over from A WALK IN MY SHOES...interesting question. I believe if you know a place than write about it or get to know it but otherwise fictional towns are FUN.

Hope you will stop by my blog!

Lazy Writer said...

My completed ms is set in a real town. I have the same concerns you mentioned about the people living there picking apart my description. That's something to think about.

Linda Kage said...

I like making up places in my stories best. You can make streets and neighborhoods go exactly how you want them.

And if you were worried about people from real places catching your mistakes, you could write historical settings. All the people living there are probably long gone!

Beth said...

Since I used a real place (that I've been to before), I'm sticking to real details. If I don't feel comfortable enough in my knowledge of a real place, then I don't use it for my setting. It would make me too neurotic and I think my creativity would suffer.

For instance, I won't be having anyone driving fast down River Street in my story, because in Savannah, River Street is cobblestone and could totally ruin your tire alignment ;P It's little details like that that are important.

When in doubt...make up a new place!

Amy Tate said...

I'm a research geek, so when I was writing Attack at Fleetwood Hill, I loaded up my family and drove to Brandy Station Va. for the weekend. Before I submitted the manuscript, I had two professionals (a historian, and a retired U.S. Army officer) review my book. I figured that if I completely got something wrong, then they both would find it. They were so helpful, and to my relief, they didn't find any errors. But I know what you mean concerning the fear factor. But in a weird way, that's somehow part of the thrill.

Laura Martone said...

I'd say that, as a women's fiction writer, I do a mix of the two. In my WIP, I created an underground village that I'm pretty sure does not exist (at least, I hope I'm not outing such a village!), but part of the story takes place in real places - New Orleans and South Padre Island - both of which I've lived in and know pretty well. But even within those real places, I've made things up... like restaurant names that don't exist. So, mine is a mixture of real and imaginary - with both setting types meticulously researched.

Jessie Oliveros said...

I have thought the same things. I have one imaginary city, one real city, and one village-with-no-name in my current WIP. All valid concerns about the real-city situation. However, just look at what happen to Forks, WA when it was googled by Stephenie Meyer out of oblivion.

Karen Amanda Hooper said...

My best friend and I had talked about visiting Sedona for over a decade. Sadly, it wasn't until after I started writing my story that we finally jumped on airplanes and met in AZ. It was everything we knew it would be (and more) and it made writing my story that much more magical. I'm confident I got the descriptions correct. Whether they suck or not is all subjective. ;)

EriCan said...

Great Post and question...My WIP is set in Chicago. I haven't lived there, but have been there a few times and only live two hours away. I often worry about if I get it wrong what will happen. I just keep it simple. I only name landmarks and such. The rest I guess I'll worry about if/when I ever get published!

My WIP also takes place in Hell- a Hell I made up, so I already had to create a town there, along with a lot of other stuff! I think made up towns are cool too, just depends on your preference :)