After creating characters and piecing together a great story, the next important step is creating a believable setting. Since I usually work in fantasy, I’ve never had to face the problem of using a real setting versus a created one. I’ve never even had to think about the different options, until now. My NaNoWriMo manuscript isn’t a fantasy – it’s stuck somewhere between mystery and thriller and is supposed to take place in CollegeTown, USA somewhere.
This realization brought my progress to a halt. Do I use a real town or make one up? Are there any issues with using an existing place? When creating an imaginary place, can it be used in connection with real places?
In true My Literary Quest fashion I’ve made a list of pros and cons.
- Already created
- There are pictures and maps available
- Many readers will already be familiar with it
- Has a built-in history
- Must stay accurate to physical layout
- Readers may have negative associations with location
- Any error, however slight, will be noticed
- Might encounter legality issues using real names (See Personality Rights)
- Flexible to meet needs of story
- Doesn’t need in-depth research
- No one will know if you get it wrong
- Can become its own character – think Gotham city
- Reader will not be familiar with it
- Has no built-in history with reader
- Requires more brain work by the writer to make it feel real
- Feels disconnected from the rest of the world
After considering the different pros and cons of both options an imaginary setting would suit my story best. It gives me the flexibility I need without worrying about getting every last detail correct.
Readers, what are your experiences with reading or using real versus imaginary settings? Can imaginary towns be mixed with real ones? Are there other pros and cons that I might not have considered?
Let me know in the comments!