Good Morning Readers,
Some storytellers use fictional places to locate their characters. Others, like me, use real locations. Is there a right or wrong, or can you use both? The answer, of course, is that there is no ‘best place’ – it all depends on the story you have in mind. Different novels require different settings…
For some, real locations are essential – a novel about a magician who plans to make the Tower of London disappear, tricky to set that in an imaginary English city, and in other cases, only fictional settings will do – For example, Lord of the Rings or J.K. Rowling’ Harry Potter. For most novels, either choice could work. If you plan to write a love story set in a city, it would work just as well in London as it would in the pure fantasy city of Modemezia in Southern Europe.
The decision, – fictional or real setting? – will boil down to raw preference in most cases. Here are a couple of the advantages and disadvantages to consider…
Fictional settings will take more work. Most people’s knowledge of an environment will be limited to postcard views of the city. The London Eye, Saint Paul’s Cathedral and the Houses of Parliament. Set your novel in a fictional town, and Viola, things change rapidly. Here you will need to put your descriptive writing into practice. So, two things to consider. Dismantle the pre-existing mental image that readers bring to the novel and construct a new mental image closer to the one you have in your head. Also, you may enjoy the challenge of inventing an entire city (or at least the parts of it you’re going to use in your story) from scratch.
If your novel would work in a familiar setting, and if you’re willing to put in the research to get your facts straight, go for it. Otherwise, set your novel somewhere real: a real country, an actual region, town or city, but make the heart of your setting fictional, such as an imaginary district or street within a real city. This gives you the best of both worlds.
But because you’ll use fictional settings for the specific locations – the main character’s house, their favourite restaurant, and so on – you’ll have the freedom to build your background to meet the needs of the story, not the other way around. Another choice to make is to use a few fictional elements – such as imaginary street in a real town, or a fictitious hotel on an actual road. This gives you the ability to build your setting according to the demands of your story, rather than having to twist your story to fit the limitations of the real world.
In my Historical Fiction, I write about real places. Saint Pois, Chinon, and the POW camp that existed after the Invasion of Normandy. – Fourcarville, in 57 Kensington Road, It also helps, I have been to all of these places. Walked around the streets, (not the POW camp built by the Americans and no longer exists), but looked over stone walls, taken hundreds of photos for reference and to sit in my favourite cafes and ‘people watch.’
Always remember before you start writing. The setting of the novel is essential, but the characters you place in them, and the plots must still take precedence.