Monday, February 28, 2011

Settings: Authentic or Fictional?

     The March issue of The Writer has an interesting article about settings: "Make It Up--or Keep It Real?" Author Tanya Egan Gibson says, "Bringing fiction to life, in most cases, requires a blend of invention and fact...The real part of it makes the 'unreal' believable." She also ascribes to a caveat which I've read other places: impugning an actual place (of business) isn't the best way to win friends and influence people--and might get you into trouble!
     The idea for The Face on Miss Fanny's Wall, recently contracted by Champagne Books, came from a visit to Ft. Smith's (Arkansas) Visitors Center, a restored 'social club' known as the 'Hello Bordello'. While I used the names of real geographical features--i.e. rivers--I changed the name and location of my fictional bordello since I invented a plethora of dangerous events occurring in and around it.
     On the other hand, in The Showboat Affair, I carefully researched Houston, Texas, for authentic locations such as street names, neighborhoods, and restaurants--and when my characters went to Branson, I used an actual hotel, tourist attractions, names of shows, and 'The Branson Belle' (showboat)--but all with a positive spin. However, when Nick and Jean start home and run into trouble on the road, though I used the name of a real town, I made up the hotel where the trouble occurs.
     Just this week, I visited two Civil War battle sites, as well as an antebellum home used by the 'Yankee invaders' as a headquarters, and all of those locations will find their way into a current WIP--but under fictional names and in another state. The Penelope Pembroke cozy mystery series I'm working on is situated in the fictional town of Amaryllis, Arkansas, somewhere near both Little Rock and Hot Springs.
     I love the research aspect of writing, despite the fact that it can be tedious and time-consuming. Sometimes it's difficult to keep a 'real feel' while still disguising and/or fictionalizing a setting. But the challenge pays off in the end if readers not only identify with the characters but also with the world in which they live.
     What kinds of settings do YOU use, and how do you craft them?


Sue Palmer Fineman said...

I usually use a blend of real and fictinal. In The Mitchell Money, I created a charming Western town I called Maystown. It's near Sedona and Flagstaff, so there's a frame of reference for the readers, but the ranch, the town, and the characters are purely figments of my imagination.

Jennifer Jakes said...

I too use some of both. In RAFE'S REDEMPTION I made up the names of the Colorado towns, but I researched and found 2 historical forts that I used the names of.
Good post!

Alison H. said...

I use both real and fictionalized settings, too. In HARVEST OF DREAMS, I set the story in a real small town with lots of existing antebellum buildings and based my heroine's house on a historic home I toured - same vintage but in another city.

Michele said...

I only wish I could visit the historical and futuristic places I write about. My contemporaries are set in places I've visited or lived. I always like it when I read a book set in contemporary times and can recognize a location by a writer's description.

Joanna Aislinn said...

I'm guessing the blend of real and fictional is beast :)

I make up the names and places but research the where: that applies to climate, store, hospital, situation. (Situation is probably the one I need to back up most with at least one fact, just so I can 'prove' the authenticity of my work.

Judy said...

Thanks for all the insightful comments! Sounds like a good blend here.

K9friend said...

I lean toward fictionalized locations grounded in real ones. If that makes any sense at all.