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Using a town the writer is familiar with


Use a real town?  

5 members have voted

  1. 1. Should I use a real town in my fictional story? It appears in maybe three chapters of what is turning into nearly fifty chapters.

    • Yes
      3
    • No
      2


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A thread a while back discussed the pros and cons of using a real town in a fictional story. I am somewhat familiar with the town I want to use, although I have never lived there. I lived in a nearby town some twenty-plus years ago, but I have done a fair amount of research to verify what the town is like now.

 

 

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I'd once read a series of mysteries set in a fictional town based on one nearby. The interesting difference is that the author could make whatever changes were convenient, any mistakes would appear intentional, and there was far less concern over lawsuits over misrepresenting somebody or something, because... halooooo... lots of this stuff is all made up!!!

 

Many well-known landmarks were renamed to some sort of synonym or free association, so they were obvious. Other places, like local watering holes, could be the subject of all sorts of speculation as to which place, if any, they were. (Often, a local landmark was a composite of places.) And when the author did readings as part of the whole book promotion thing, answering various speculations added an extra liveliness to the group that went well beyond what you'd expect to see...

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I wrote one novelette entirely set in the town where I live. I did it because I was coming off building a huge world in a trilogy and needed something small. I wanted to take the true history and geography of the town to tell a story. My metaphor was the donut: There are six donut shops in my town of 24,000 people and the several adjoining towns together form a huge donut with Spot Pond in the center. The story was about emptiness, about a hole in the center of your soul.

 

This was a good dry run for a novel I have partly written where I take the landmarks and minutia of Cambridge and Boston (where I work) as part of an urban fantasy. By using real details and shaping them into a fantasy, the blend of real and unreal is fun to work with.

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I couldn't choose "Yes" or 'No" in your poll because, well, it depends.

 

I read a series that was based in the place I grew up and I loved it, because the author also lived there and was accurate in the geographical descriptions. Some of the passages felt like a homecoming of sorts, and inspired some trips down memory lane. If you can do that I say go for it.

 

My apprehension would be missing the mark and confusing/offending a reader who is familiar with the area.

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I guess it would be a yes or no thing too, honestly. Messing up just one thing might upset someone who actually lives in that area or is familiar with the area. But you could; just maybe change things up like Sarah suggested. I  used a certain part of the Philippines that I had been to for my story (which is somewhere in my storage bin...); didn't know if I was allowed to or not, but my twelve-year-old self didn't care. 😛

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I think it's fun if the writer is super familiar with the area. It gets kind of shaky to me when they aren't as familiar and might make an error on accident. I think I would recommend making a town based off your memories of that town plus the research. 

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So many pros and cons! Personally, I love when books mention places I know. It's exciting for someone to read about their town in a book and think, "Aaa! That landmark! Yes!" Or "yes, that is the worst traffic light, this author really did her homework!"

 

I'm actually using a real location in one of my books, and I get to use some liberties because as a superhero novel, it's basically like a parallel universe, so not EVERYTHING will be the same. Even still, I've got friends from there, and will try to get a few others who currently live there to read it to give advice if they like what I did with their town. If not, changes can be made to make it similar without causing any offenses, legal or personal.

(In fact, the reason I'm using this town is because these friends asked, "what's the town like? This small? Maybe set up in this way?" And their ideas sounded good and they took me around it to give me a native-tour, and I was able to find locations that fit my needs. So far to me it seems people enjoy having their hometowns mentioned.)

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A lot of writers will use a town they know but give it a fictional name. That allows them to change/alter things and takes the pressure of having to be exact in the portrayal of the town.  I have done that a few times.

 

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