Government Street is one of the oldest streets in Mobile and a main artery going through its downtown section.
REAL SETTINGS/FICTIONAL NAMES
- William Faulkner: In many of his works, Faulkner set his tales in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, inspired by the Mississippi county, Lafayette, in which he lived.
- Winston Groom: One of Winston Groom’s early works, Gone the Sun, is partially set in the town of Bienville. However, having grown up in Mobile the same as he did, and in the same era, it was obvious to me that his fictional Bienville is— actually – Mobile!
So, Faulkner and Groom show us that it’s perfectly fine to use a real setting but give it a different name. This allows writers lots of freedom—where their characters go, where events happen, and the types of characters they use.
REAL CITIES/REAL NAMES
- Research: If a writer knows his/her setting well, he or she doesn’t have to do lots of research. However, detailed research is essential if stories have a real setting with which writers aren’t familiar. That said, it’s also permissible to create fictional neighborhoods and streets in real places.
- Readers: Real settings help writers create places readers recognize. For example, Andy Andrews’s book, The Heart Mender, is set in Gulf Shores, Alabama, located along a peninsula at the mouth of Mobile Bay. I instantly recognized the places in his book, for I’ve visited them many a time. It is a popular tourist resort these days. Because it was so well written and recognizable, it drew me deep into his story, a true story he wrote using fiction techniques.
- Fictional settings: Creating these is great fun! It releases a writer’s imagination!
- Research Again: If a fictional town is set in a real place, writers need to be sure the topography, vegetation, wildlife, and similar things are accurate.
A GENTLE WARNING
Lawsuits. If we use real people in our stories and portray them in a negative way, or if we’re critical of a real place such as a library or restaurant, we could be asking for a lawsuit. In my opinion, it’s safer legally to keep as much as possible fictional, even in real settings. Take Sherlock Holmes’s fictional address, for example—221B Baker Street. Although Baker Street does exist in London, and in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s day, the street didn’t go that far.
What are your thoughts on this subject?
2 thoughts on “SETTINGS, REAL AND FICTIONAL”
Good warning, Jack.