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Does a Fictional City Need a Specific Location? A Poll | #amwriting

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

If you follow me on Instagram, you may have seen me post this over the weekend:

Or, you may have seen me post this on my Facebook page:

So, now that I’m deeply entrenched in creating this fictional city, I have a question for you as readers and/or writers.

If it’s made known that the city is in the United States—and perhaps a general geographic region given—does it matter to you as a reader if the state is never specified?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jorge Torres permalink
    Wednesday, May 16, 2018 9:52 pm

    As an amateur writer, I think that a novel gets more interesting if the reader is able to know every little detail about the world you have created in your mind. In your case, it can be a real state or an invented one, but I think it’s better to specify it.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Saturday, June 2, 2018 12:41 pm

    I’m not in the US but I need to know where a story is happening. If the answer is Texas then my vision of the story is going to be way different than if the answer is Maine. The weather (opportunity for tornado or tidal storm or heatwave) the architecture and the culture will be so different in places a thousand miles apart that it seems crazy to try to create a generic “American city”. I like fictional places, but I like them tied to reality. “A small town in the Yorkshire Moors” works better for me than ” a small town in England.” Even better I like fictional quarters or buildings in real cities. Think the Friends version of NYC or the invented 221B Baker Street. Generic locations make me think the author can’t be bothered, or has never visited that country.

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  3. Marlena H. permalink
    Sunday, August 12, 2018 4:55 pm

    For me it depends. Definitely the difference between Texas and Maine as sefton9 mentioned above, but even if you limited it down to a much more general area than the USA it has to be pretty specific. West Coast or East Coast is way to general. I grew up on the West Coast, but my part of the West Coast is nothing like the part of the West Coast where my mom’s sister and her family live. Even narrowing it down to a state can be too general. I grew up in California, but trust me when I say the (San Francisco) Bay Area and Orange County are not the same. And both of them are different than Northern California. Our weather is different. Our traffic is different. They don’t have BART.

    One of my favorite things when I open a book is maps (another favorite is family trees). When a story takes place in a fictional location and the author takes the time to make a map that gives me the general idea of where the story takes place. It doesn’t have to be detailed. I’ve seen maps that have the outline of a state, a star for the state capital with it’s name next to it, and a dot for the area where the story takes place with it’s name there.

    For a series I am working on I have created fictional cities in Iowa. There are fictional cities in other states as well, but just that part has given way to questions such as:
    – When does school start? What is the cutoff for starting kindergarten?
    – Marriage laws
    – Divorce laws (this one was relevant to New Jersey and lead to my not getting two characters divorced because it would take too long compared to when I wanted them to get back together, so they were just legal separated)
    – Adoption laws
    – Laws governing private investigators
    – Where lawyers can practice law
    – Who investigates when you find out it might involve the missing adult child of a previous president . . . that one was almost enough to make me get rid of a character, almost, not quite
    – Parental kidnapping across state lines
    – Legal immigrants and how their children become citizens . . . which is making me consider making the kids born in the US, because it’s a mess . . . although I guess that one is not state specific
    – Tourist traps. At least two of the cities were things in my series take place are tourist traps. One in Arizona and one in Alabama
    – How long it takes to walk or drive between Alabama and New Jersey
    – Where in New York might there be a cave system that I can stick some missing characters that is close enough to New York City that it won’t make travel ridiculous

    Picking an actual state and a general area in that state can provide a lot of opportunities. I was initially going to replace a real city with my fake one, but I have decided to keep the real city, so I have characters in both cities and I can do things with the actual locations in the real city.

    If for example your city is on the East Coast, is your character able to make day trips to NYC? Do they go to college in nearby Boston? Maybe they are uncomfortable being the only (pick your skin tone) in XYZ but the locals are really nice so most of the time it really doesn’t matter (or maybe they aren’t and they are considering moving). Do the tourists driving to nearby Miami make the roads forever clogged up and drive them a little nuts? Was that a US senator they saw at lunch the other day at the local cafe in Washington DC? Is in common for them to see people walking around in clothing from colonial Williamsburg nearby? Do they see a lot of people coming across the border from Canada? And that’s just a few things on the East Coast.

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    • Sunday, August 12, 2018 5:54 pm

      When I was writing my books with the fictional city set in Louisiana, the Southern/Cajun culture definitely played into it. I had a very specific geographic location so that I knew exactly how long it took to get to Baton Rouge, New Orleans, Shreveport, etc.

      But with this idea, it’s more of an Everytown USA type setting. I don’t necessarily want to tie it into a specific regional culture—I’ve personally lived in New Mexico, Louisiana, Tennessee, and the Washington DC/Mid-Atlantic region, so I know how different those regional cultures can be. But I also know that there are more things that make people and regions alike than different. I want to pick out and focus on those things that are familiar to everyone rather than try to make a treatise on a specific culture, as I felt I had to do with the Brides of Bonneterre series—and then have to defend each and every decision I made to include or not include certain aspects of Louisiana culture (such as not using spelled-out Cajun dialect/accents or other stereotypes people associate with “Louisiana”—meaning New Orleans).

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