Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Fictional Locations

No matter how hard a writer tries to make a fictional story seem real, some things just have to be fabricated. I’ve been watching Murder She Wrote on DVD. It seems like a very real place with its population of 3,560, but Cabot Cove, Maine does not exist. If it did, it would sit near Portland, Maine, which the show mentions often. Portland, Maine is a very real place.

I have a similar situation in some of my books. If you were to take travel times and the names of places I mention, it wouldn’t take you very long to figure out that the heretofore unnamed city is located in the same spot as the real City of Cape Girardeau, Missouri. A bit of irony is that I once read a novel set in Cape Girardeau that had fewer elements of Cape in it than what my books do and yet I chose to leave the name of the city out of the book.

One of the problems we face with using real places is that they don’t always fit the story. The setting for my stories is more like the shopkeepers in downtown Cape Girardeau would like it to be rather than the way it really is. They also have some buildings and streets that don’t exist there. There really is a First Baptist Church in Cape Girardeau, but their building looks nothing like the one in my books. I also very much doubt their members look very much like my characters. If you are from the Cape Girardeau area, you may see some similarities between Ben’s family and the Limbaugh family, but I wanted to be able to define the family in the book rather than basing it on real people.

Using a fictional location, even if it is very much like a real location, gives the writer freedom. In my current project, I have Sara drive through Jackson (yeah, she’s driving now) and stop at a stoplight that is near the top of a hill. Because Jackson is a real place, I had to be careful about street names. I have driven through Jackson many times and didn’t pay attention to street names, but it I use the wrong name, someone is sure to notice. But, in my fictional city, I can call the names whatever I want and never be wrong. We don’t want readers to lose sight of the story because the stoplight is in the wrong location.

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