Every story needs to be set somewhere. Many of the best stories have vivid settings that are far more than a backdrop but are integral to the story. But how do you, the writer, choose whether to use an existing setting or make one up yourself? What all is involved in the decision between real and fictional settings? Let’s look at the pros and cons.
1. Real Setting
A true-to-life setting may be the best bet for historical stories and some present-day tales.
- You don’t have to invent anything! Just find a map.
- You can use real businesses, parks, residential areas, etc.
- Readers familiar with the area appreciate the authentic touch.
- It can give you ready-made places to hold a book signing.
- Locals might object if a business owner is sleazy or a murder happens in the Presbyterian Church on the corner of 10th and Victoria.
- There might not be a real town with the attitudes, micro-climate, or service groups you need.
2. Fictional Setting
If you’re writing speculative fiction, in particular, you don’t have much choice but to create a totally made-up setting.
- Your imagination is the limit.
- You can make sure the library is next door to the park or the river, depending on what’s needed for your plot to work.
- It takes a lot more time to create a city or regional area than to peruse maps of a suitable place.
- It’s harder to create a sense of place.
- Pros and cons of real, fictional, or hybrid settings. What do you think? click to tweet
- Writer, which is best, a real or a fictional setting? Examine the pros and cons: click to tweet
3. Real Setting with Fictional Components
Sometimes a hybrid setting makes the most sense, especially for contemporary novels.
- The story can absorb all the benefits of local flavor with its topography, climate, and demographics.
- You can add suburbs or side streets for your characters to live on in well-known residential areas.
- You can add a coffee shop or theater where you need one.
- Readers may inform you that you mixed things up. (A declaration in the book’s back or front matter should take care of that.)
In general, the most authentic-feeling settings to your readers will be real ones—or ones you spend a lot of time creating in depth. What’s your preference as a reader? As a writer?
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