SCBWI's Blueboard - A Message & Chat Board

Input on Using Real Places for Obvious Fiction

Discussion started on

Poster
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region midsouth
I'd like input from a writer/reader/editor point of view on using real place settings in fiction. I'm working on a mystery novel (MG) set in Southwest Georgia. My characters are searching for the lost treasure of the Confederacy. I have chosen to create my own story of where the treasure is hidden because it dovetails better with my characters' backstories, rather than placing it in coastal Georgia where the treasure is actually rumored to be. My characters end up in a real town (Bainbridge) on the Flint River, searching historic houses and buildings for clues. I want to know how accurate the story should be, since this is a real town (i.e., there is a historic district with preserved historic homes). My plot is clearly fiction (there is no treasure in Bainbridge) and the characters are animals.There are existing buildings that are in the correct locations and are of the right time period to be the hiding place, but they have been turned into commercial buildings and each have their limitations for my plot. Is it better to create a place that serves the plot better, or work with existing buildings and adjust the plot to the reality of the town?

Thank you!

Jennifer
#1 - August 06, 2015, 09:46 AM

Administrator
Poster Plus
  • ****
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region dakotas
It's totally up to you. (I looooooove fantastical fiction set in real places, though!) You could always have an author's afterword where you talk about which parts are real and which parts you altered. Dorothy L. Sayers did that a couple times in mystery novels--inventing a whole women's college in the middle of Oxford, and I think also altering the tides to fit her story.
#2 - August 06, 2015, 10:02 AM

Administrator
Poster Plus
  • ****
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region wisconsin
I think some of this depends on how big the city and/or neighborhood is. For example, if you're writing about Chicago, the basic geography has to be right, you can refer to major buildings (Sears Tower, Trump Tower), specific public buildings such as museums, modes of transport like the El, etc. There, you really want to be accurate. But I wouldn't write about specific private homes on a specific street. This would feel like an invasion of privacy. I'd invent either the street name or the house.

If I were being this specific with even the major geography in a small town, I'd rename the town and even then change some things. Somebody actually did write a novel set in the small town I live in (15K people), and changed the name and some details, and I can tell you it was fun to read but would have seemed invasive if EVERYTHING was accurate.

I think you're absolutely fine with putting the treasure in Bainbridge, as long as it's not such a small town that that might feel invasive, in which case I'd make up a fictional name. And you need and can use the historic district in general. But I think I'd change the specific homes. The real refurbished Queen Anne on the corner, for example, might become a Colonial Revival in the middle of the block instead.

If nothing existing quite fits your plot, I'd make up a building that does. You'll get to explain in your author's note what you changed for the sake of the story. 
#3 - August 06, 2015, 10:14 AM
Adventures of Jenna V. Series
Caroline Grade Mysteries
The Journey of Emilie
Anne Bradstreet: America's Puritan Poet
www.marciahoehne.com

Poster
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region midsouth
Excellent points, thank you! I'm torn between creating a town and using the existing town with fictional places. I agree, it would be invasive to find out there is a story set in your house! I think I'll have to see how my story develops and adjust from there. I'll just have to tease out how important the setting becomes as I write. Thank you so much!!!
#4 - August 06, 2015, 10:36 AM

I think I'll have to see how my story develops and adjust from there. I'll just have to tease out how important the setting becomes as I write.

I think this is exactly right, Jennifer. And as others have said, there's nothing wrong with mixing fact with fiction. For some real life examples, I have personally enjoyed the urban fantasies written by Patricia Briggs, because they are set in places that are very familiar to me. And I have no problem with the fiction mixed into the fact--I know she isn't block specific with houses, but she stays true to the type of neighborhoods that would exist in those areas. And the TV show Grimm uses my home city in a way that amuses me. I recognize places and buildings, but they aren't always where they say they are in the show. Street names are also used vaguely, and not in a way that a local would use them. But that in no way damages the homage to the area.
#5 - August 06, 2015, 11:13 AM

Member
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region wwa
Looks like you already have good advice and a good plan. Just chiming in to say that I love reading a breakdown of what's real and what's not in an afterword or whatever. 
#6 - August 07, 2015, 06:51 AM
Twitter: @MelissaKoosmann

Books for Kids and Teens
Member
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region oregon
You can always fictionalize a real town. In other words, you use Bainbridge, but you make up a new name. You can use some real street names (especially ones that are common enough to be in many towns), make some of them up, etc.
#7 - August 07, 2015, 08:15 AM

Poster
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region midsouth
Thank you all. I've spent a few hours following the rabbit down the rabbit hole and the story is shaping itself into a fictional place loosely based on Bainbridge and the surrounding area. My story has a gang of pirate chickens and I just discovered that there is an actual town outside of Bainbridge called "Fowlstown." Some things you just can't make up!
#8 - August 07, 2015, 09:04 AM

Reader, Writer, Teacher, Wife & Mother
Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region carolinas
Max & Dagny, Why in the World, Tongue-Tied, Bound, Ten Easter Eggs & 100+ bks/mags
https://vijayabodach.blogspot.com https://bodachbooks.blogspot.com

Global Moderator
Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region iowa
The pirate chickens of Fowlstown? Love it!  :cannon
#10 - August 07, 2015, 12:32 PM
Learning to Swear in America (Bloomsbury, July 2016)
What Goes Up (Bloomsbury, 2017)
Twitter: KatieWritesBks

Member
Poster Plus
  • *
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI PAL
  • SCBWI Region wwa
You should check out Kelly Jones's book Unusual Chickens for the Exceptional Poultry Farmer. It's completely adorable. Very different premise from yours, so no worries there, but a chicken book writer ought to know about chicken books.
#11 - August 08, 2015, 07:30 AM
Twitter: @MelissaKoosmann

Poster
  • **
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region midsouth
Is that written as an epistolary? I think I picked it up at the book store because, yes, chickens....
#12 - August 08, 2015, 07:54 AM

Poster Plus
  • ***
  • SCBWI Member
  • SCBWI Region intlcentral
Using real places and buildings -as long as they serve your plot well- can have a impressive effect on your readers.

I once published a short story (100% fiction, of course) about a werewolf, set in my own neighborhood, and a friend asked my boyfriend where was the werewolf's house!

Go for it and have fun!  :bunnyshake
#13 - August 12, 2015, 08:16 AM

Mike Jung

Guest
YA author Daniel Jose Older has written some great things about the importance of setting to a story, and it seems particularly apt in this case, since your story involves Confederate history. Here's one of his posts: https://modelviewculture.com/pieces/context-as-crisis-the-street-is-a-book
#14 - August 12, 2015, 08:34 AM

Members:

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.