Location: truth or fiction?

It’s been another hard week of editing Part Three of The Big Smoke, but I’ve managed to get through another 25% (or 13,600 words) and I’m feeling quietly confident I’ll have Part Three ready for my beta readers by my revised deadline of 12 December (fingers crossed!).

While reading Part Two, one of my beta readers asked me about my choice to have my two main characters, Seb and Ceara, come from fictional country towns in rural Queensland. My answer: I didn’t want to say they were from real country towns and then have people from those towns identify things that clearly didn’t fit with their town (from scenery to slang words).  The only country town I know intimately enough to write about is Gatton, my home town. But I didn’t want either of my characters to come from there because I didn’t want readers (particularly readers who know me) to think the story was auto-biographical (because it isn’t).

That was my original rationale. But after my beta reader asked the question, I’ve been revisiting the decision in my mind. I know that I really enjoy books that have real settings, particularly if I’m familiar with those settings. But do I enjoy them more than books with imaginary settings? I’m not 100% decided, but the more I think about it, the more I don’t think it’s a huge factor for me. I mean, I love reading books set in Brisbane, my current home (like Nick Earls’ The Fix and Ian Wynne’s Gavel), but I also enjoy reading books with fictional-but-still-realistic settings (like Christopher Currie’s The Ottoman Motel).

I’m keen to hear your thoughts. Does it make a difference to your enjoyment of a book if the settings are real or imaginary? The Big Smoke is realistic fiction – does this make a difference? Meaning, are you happy to read about imaginary settings in fantasy but not realistic fiction? Or does genre not change your opinion?

Also, many of my settings are real (like the city of Brisbane, where most of the book takes place). Would you prefer settings to be consistently real or imaginary, or does that not matter to you? And finally, do you think it would be worth the extra research involved to have my main characters come from real country towns or do you think fictional-but-still-realistic settings are good enough?

I love hearing other readers’ and writers’ opinions on things like this, so please let me know what you think!  🙂



Filed under Beta readers, Progress update, Tangled

16 responses to “Location: truth or fiction?

  1. If the book is some type of fantasy, I’m fine with made-up worlds. In realistic fiction, I’m fine with anything that seems realistic as long as I don’t know it to be untrue. So if you write about a town I’ve never been to, I won’t know the difference 🙂 But if you write about a place I know well, I’m going to notice if you don’t get it right. I guess the question is, how large a percentage of your readers are likely to come from the towns you want to use? If it’s a lot, and they’re going to give you hard time if the details are incorrect, than either make up towns based on reality or do some research. If it’s not too many readers, it’s likely no one will notice 🙂

    • Very interesting indeed. Thanks for your thoughts! The percentage of readers from the towns I’d choose would be small, but I still wouldn’t want to be inaccurate. I’m a bit of a stickler for accuracy with stuff like that – I think that’s why I’ve opted for fictional places based on reality. 🙂

  2. I think a realistic location is important if you are writing realistic fiction, but much less so in fiction that is further from present-day reality.

    One example is my most recent book SLAYING SEASON, a present-day mystery. Although it takes place at a fictitious university (there are lots of bad things happening there and I felt it would be risky from a legal standpoint to use an actual school) the city of Springfield, IL where the college is supposedly located is real. I carefully researched real Springfield restaurants, businesses and locations for use in the book.

    On the other hand, my upcoming book AMERICAN EPITAPH takes place in the year 2025. It can best be described as a political thriller, basically the story of what could happen if the wrong folks get elected in 2012. In the future as portrayed in AMERICAN EPITAPH, there are no states anymore so it didn’t seem right or necessary to use actual cities. As a result, much of the story takes place in two fictitious cites, Newtown and Center City.

    I am publishing a Part I preview of AMERICAN EPITAPH in the next week, on Kindle and also in paperback.

    • Thanks for your thoughts, James. Sounds like you’ve made the right decisions with your books. I agree you have to be careful from a legal standpoint if bad things are happening in your locations – some ‘bad’ things happen in mine but none in specific real locations (except for the broad city of Brisbane).

  3. This is an interesting issue, Cally. Personally, I don’t think it really matters, so long as your backdrop is enjoyable and easy for the reader to envisage. Writers such as Ben Aaronovich in ‘Rivers of London’, a realistic fantasy, ensure that their descriptions of London are vivid and accurate down to actual restaurants and cafes. Which reads very well – however, I’m not a Londoner and if he got it wrong, or in another 10 years when shops have closed, will it jar with readers that such detail is inaccurate.
    Sharon Lee in ‘Carousel Tides’ set her realistic fantasy in a small tourist Maine town that was a conglomeration of a number of similar places, because she wanted the freedom to tweak the landscape as she saw fit. Perhaps you could read both books, look at your own writing and see which approach best suits you…

    • Thanks so much for your suggestions, Sjhigbee. I definitely think I lean more towards Sharon Lee’s approach – I like the flexibility of being able to tweak the landscape. But in saying that, I’m very particular about getting my descriptions of Brisbane right, so I must fall somewhere in the middle! Either that or I just can’t make up my mind! 🙂

  4. Robyn Martin

    I am enjoying reading ‘The Big Smoke’ and the fictional country town works well for me. So many people come to Brisbane to study or work or both from small country towns and Queensland is a huge state with so many of them. Making the country town a fictional place adds to the mystery and allure especially with the characters referring to it as somewhere that nobody has heard of. You have made Brisbane so real and I like the contrast with the fictious town, and your choice of name.

    • Thanks so much for your thoughts, Robyn. Great to hear that the fictional towns are working well for you and I agree there are so many small towns in Queensland people might think my fictional ones are real anyway! 🙂

  5. It’s not a big deal to me. It is, like you say, fun to read about “home”, where you can say “I know that place!” while you’re reading it. But it’s not as though that would be a deciding factor for me when choosing what book to read. I’m in it for the STORY!

  6. Having spent most of my life writing very subjective non-fiction, I’m all for reading about real places. You can say quite a lot about a place without waxing lyrical too – like the places in Elmore Leonard’s novels, where you only find out snippets almost exclusively through the characters’ dialogue but it’s enough to help you develop a pretty clear picture in your mind. It also means the L.A. I read about in his books is a different L.A. than what someone else sees, which is always good I think.

    • It’s amazing how much you can say about a place without writing paragraphs of description. It’s all about the vibe! Expressing the soul of the place, rather than the physical features. And paragraph after paragraph of description gets a bit tiresome anyway. 🙂

  7. Fictional towns usually work for me as long as they are like other towns in the area. For instance, if it’s in Florida it shouldn’t be cold or never rain. On the other hand, I don’t like imaginary cities. Hope that helps.

  8. I’ve had this debate with my beta readers too. I was using all made up cities but keeping the states and countries the same. Too many of them complained it was too confusing because they kept going to maps to find the places and they weren’t there. So what I did was keep my main city fictional and used the real names for other places.It still lends an air of fantasy but keeps people from going nuts trying to find places. Yes it does make it harder trying to keep the facts on the real places accurate, but the betas were much happier. I use several betas and they all complained.

    • That’s very interesting indeed. Seems like people are fine with made up towns but not made up cities. I wonder what the cut-off is. 500,000 people? One million? Market researchers eat your heart out! 🙂

What do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s