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Author Topic: Real Places
Meredith
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Okay. BLOOD WILL TELL is the first story I've written that takes place even partly in the "real" world. (Urban fantasy/Paranormal romance) Probably about two-thirds of the story takes place in this world. I've set it in the area I've lived in all my life because, well, I know the area pretty well. So far, I've only used real city, street, and park names and a Farmer's Market that takes place twice a week at one of those parks. Some places I've made up or made intentionally vague because I need something that isn't exactly the way it is in the real world.

Now, I'm about to write a scene that takes place in a restaurant. Right now, I'm using an actual restaurant. However, what fictionally takes place there would not be very apetizing. What are the rules about that sort of thing?

I can easily change Marie Callender's to Mary O'Day's and leave the location and cuisine the same (they're going for the pie). People in the South Bay will know what's actually in that location. Do I need to do this?


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Denem
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The way I see it is that you're hoping your readership is large enough that those from South Bay only make up a small percentage and would forgive the fictional portion of the writing with the realization that it is fiction after all and some things will be make believe.
The rest of us not from South Bay wouldn't know Marie Callender's from McDonald's so whatever you wrote would be treated as entirely fictional anyway.
I agree that the farthest you would need to go would be to change the name of the establishment slightly.

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Kitti
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I think if you're going to portray the restaurant in anything that might be interpreted as a negative light (not sure what your unappetizing scene is - eyeballs in the soup?) then changing the name would be a good idea.

When it comes to portraying reality in fiction, the thing I try to keep in mind is that reality changes. What if Marie Callenders goes out of business next year? Or six months after you publish your book? Those tiny details won't always be right in the years to come, so if you want to fudge them to start with, you're probably safe enough. Authorial license and all that.


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rstegman
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Some Authors, especially detective stories try to be extreemely accurate on their scenes. There are readers who go to locate places they read about in their stories.

I heard about one author who always used addresses located in the middle of the Hudson river for that reason.

Unless it being In that specific town is critical to the story, I would change all the names and places and leave the exact location in the minds of the readers. If someone recognizes the locations, great, but usually, it could be in any city in the country.
If the actual location is important, be accurate. People will go to locate where it was supposed to happen.


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jezzahardin
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OSC answered a question about this in his Writing Class on Copyrights. I always wondered the same thing.

http://www.hatrack.com/writingclass/lessons/2004-04-01-2.shtml

quote:
McDonald's would have no grounds to sue you for having a character walk into a McDonald's.

They might WANT to sue you if you depicted McDonald's as a purveyor of meat derived from dead human corpses...


Worth a read for the rest of it, but it seems that unless you misrepresent their actual real life operations, you're okay. Saying that Betty the Cook (the real Betty) prepares the food with an unwashed spatula (cripes!), seems to be pushing it.


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rich
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What Kitti and Jezzahardin say.

And a publisher may have you change it anyway, no matter if something nefarious is going on or not, as a just in case.


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lbdavid98
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I'd love to have the problem of a publisher wanting me to change the name of a company in one of my stories. I'm glad everyone referenced the article on copyright, it was very enlightening on the issue and has emboldened me to just tell the story and worry about that after the fact.

As for stories set in the real world? I know that two of my favorite authors, John Fante and Walter Mosley, both wrote in mid-1900's Los Angeles with great attention to detail and location. I was raised in Long Beach and reading Fante's depiction of the big earthquake of 1934 in Ask the Dust was a real treat. I guess what I'm saying is, if you can bring that to your readers--it's a real gift and you should go for it.

[This message has been edited by lbdavid98 (edited September 09, 2009).]


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Meredith
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quote:
I'd love to have the problem of a publisher wanting me to change the name of a company in one of my stories.

So would I!

Who knows. Maybe this one has a shot.

For now, I'm keeping most of the place names (cities, streets, parks, etc) and just changing the name of the restaurant. This is only a first draft, after all.

I wasn't here for the '34 Long Beach quake, but I've felt my share since the Sylmar quake back in the 70's.


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KayTi
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One of the writers in my writer's group talks about a writer friend of his who wrote a murder mystery set in a small resort town in the midwest. He then went to the small resort town and told various people about it (I think his family had a summer cabin there or some other connection, which is why he set the novel there.) They loved that he wrote the story in their town, loved hearing the place names, description of the lake, the boat slips, etc. He brought up a carload of books during a summer weekend and sold something like 500 books just by being available and maybe because the local grocery store put up a table with his books (I forget, I think maybe he sat at the table and told people about his book/signed copies.)

All this to say - there can be some real benefits to setting your book in a real place, but I do think if something distasteful happens in a specific business, you may wish to change the business name or invent an address that would be between two businesses you know exist now, etc.

Good luck!


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lbdavid98
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quote:
invent an address that would be between two businesses you know exist now, etc.

Now there's an evocative idea, there's just something about the in-between that kicks my imagination into overdrive.


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Crank
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quote:
There are readers who go to locate places they read about in their stories.

This might be amusing. I created a fictitious town where much of my mainstream novel and Earth-bound SF novel action takes place. My reason for doing this is because I can take the best locations from my past and piece them together in any way that benefits my story. And, since the town is fictitious, I can make up any business or street name or any other landmark I so choose...all in the name of serving the story I want to tell. As long as the town stays consistent from one story to another, all is cool.

But, I've begun to wonder...being that my town is referenced as located in a densely populated area of central Maryland, I'm wondering how many people will scream foul when this town doesn't show up on MapQuest. Do fans of SF demand that level of authenticity? I never let that sort of thing hang me up, since, inherent to the genre, the author can always claim 'alternate reality.' Do fans of mainstream demand that level of authenticity? That's what I'm starting to question. Opinions, per favore.

S!
S!


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KayTi
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No, SF fans don't require that you set your novel in places that actually exist, particularly if you're setting it in the future.

They do, however, tend to think literally, so if you say that the town is on the river, they might be imagining a future world where the town is built on struts ON TOP OF a river, for an extreme and somewhat unlikely example, but an illustration nonetheless.


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tchernabyelo
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quote:
Now there's an evocative idea, there's just something about the in-between that kicks my imagination into overdrive.

I have one story written, and possible others to come, that involve imaginary/alternative New Yorks accessed through a nexus at Twenty-Third-and-a-third and Third-and-a-quarter...


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Kathleen Dalton Woodbury
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Imaginary places in real settings, based on real places, are all over literature. Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon and William Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County are two I can think of off the top of my head. Stephen King had Jerusalem's Lot, right? And there are so many others.

Some are just given other names, such as Ross Macdonald's Santa Teresa, based on Santa Barbara, California, which later became the setting for most of Sue Grafton's mysteries. Someone who actually lives there and has read the books could say whether either author changed much more than the name of the town.

While it's fun for the people who live in a town to have a book set there, it's also fun for people who think their town is the basis of an imaginary place.


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