This is topic Setting Accuracy Advice in forum Open Discussions About Writing at Hatrack River Writers Workshop.

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Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
At what point do you consider research and accuracy obsessive?

I've placed my POV character in a fictitious, small city in Michigan. He takes place in a competitive field band association while in high school.

My predicament-- Any potential reader who came of age in Michigan during the 2000s and competed in the MCBA (Michigan Competing Band Association) would know that Bannertown, MI did not exist, nor was there a competitive field band from said non-existent town.

Where would you draw the line between necessary facts and fiction?
Posted by Jay Greenstein (Member # 10615) on :
Why does the reader care that the town is, or isn't, real when every human in the story is fictional?

Stories aren't about events and happenings, they're about the effect of them on the people living the story. One of the wisest statements i've seen about what makes us read fiction, and why we read it, came from E. L. Doctorow: “Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it’s raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.”

After all, if your writing is doing its job and making the reader feel as if they're on the scene and living the story in real-time, for that reader the town, and the characters are real.
Posted by EmmaSohan (Member # 10917) on :
I never feel comfortable with how I handle reality. Or how others sometimes do. But to me, you are well on the safe side to make up an imaginary city in Michigan.

Wouldn't that be the standard choice?

Picking a real city is fun, because you can then include real facts from that city. But you will still end up with your story being fiction and not matching reality. For example, the character in your book didn't participate.
Posted by Kathleen Dalton Woodbury (Member # 59) on :
How about making up the band competition as well?

Call it something similar such as Michigan Band Competition Association, and Bannertown can certainly participate in that.

It's sort of like a mini alternate world that really isn't completely alternate.
Posted by Reziac (Member # 9345) on :
Or just don't specify the state. Evoking "upper midwest" with your descriptions should suffice, and then you can freely invent the town as required, and name the band competition as you please.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
To add my two cents worth: some writers have gotten a lot of mileage out of a detailed fictional city, or even just a setting. You could go that way and work out all sorts of details, some maybe not in the actual narrative.
Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
Jay, I find myself impressed with writers when they include details about a region or subculture that not many people know, but I happen to. Saratoga, NY was referenced an episode of "The Orville" and they made up a a cross section of two street that doesn't exist. It didn't ruin the episode at all, but if they had said, "Yeah, on the corner of Putnam and Caroline. That's the place." I'd have certainly enjoyed it more. Though I can understand how some might consider that excessive.

KDB - I considered that as well. Wrote the scenes in which I introduce that aspect of music into my protagonist's life a few different ways. I think my goal is to show as much realism and accuracy where I can, so I'm forgiven by the reader when I've clearly introduced something 100% fictitious. If I create my own competing band circuit, my initial next step is to add the other competing bands, and that means pulling bands out of the real one, MCBA, or creating more towns that don't exist. I was an avid Tom Clancy reader, until he stopped writing them, so the weight of real world details might may just be overblown in my mind. lol

Reziac - Also something I've considered, all I really need is a border with Canada.

Robert - I love the idea of Derry, ME. I frequent many towns in Maine for work/play. Obviously King knows the area well, so it's not surprising that he gets the culture correct. Even sounds like a real town.
Posted by Mecopitch (Member # 10173) on :
Emma - I didn't forget you!
I had originally thought of placing it in Belding, MI, as it had the music program the character needed, the super conservative small town politics of the late 1990's that drive many of the decisions made by characters, but I soon realized it was harder to find relevant details about a city that small from two decades in the past.

Other cities my protagonist visits don't require the same research, as he is usually only present in them for a short time, but he'd lived his entire life in Belding, (now Bannertown)

All - I always love and appreciate the opinions and insights of everyone on this forum! I hope all of you are weathering the Covid19 crisis well.
Posted by Robert Nowall (Member # 2764) on :
Re: Mecopitch: Derry, ME was a little spoiled for me by knowing there was a Derry, NH.

It's hardly the only example, but I've always been drawn to Wrightsville, in several novels by the team that wrote as "Ellery Queen." Perhaps because it reminded me of home---might be upstate New York, might be New England, either way an appreciable distance from New York City. (Some Ellery Queen novels have been put back in print recently, but, alas, not the Wrightsville ones---yet.)
Posted by InarticulateBabbler (Member # 4849) on :
Late to the party, lol, but Stephen King created Castle Rock, and Derry (as Robert mentions above), out of pieces of cities. No one runs around complaining there isn't any Castle Rock in Maine (and I live in Maine), though they might mention it with a chuckle if some out-of-stater asks about where to find it. (More than likely, the locals will just say, "Can't get there from here.")

If you look up the map for the Show Castle Rock, it's located where Lewiston is (which could never be confused for Castle Rock), and they actually filmed it in Massachusetts. Mainers know. Do they care? Not really. Funny but I hear Mainers complain more about how Bangor is pronounced "Banger," and that a lot of the actors don't sound anywhere near like they're genuinely from New England.

So, don't worry about it. Make sure you get the colloquialisms right. Don't call Coke or Pepsi "soda," call it "pop," and so on. That's the type of thing they'll pick out.

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