Thursday, October 4, 2012

Setting; Real or Fictional

Do you write using real settings, or do you create fictional ones? Do you think writing one or the other is easier?

I was helping a friend proof her novel, and came across two different spellings for the town her MC was in. I went online to find the correct spelling and was surprised to learn that the place didn’t exist. She said she did not want to use a real town because she didn’t want readers to say “that doesn’t exist in our town” and such. I laughed, because I had been spending countless hours researching the accuracy of my chosen town. For a moment I considered chucking my approach, but after 30 seconds decided I couldn’t do it. I am too… well, I can’t. I need accuracy and precise details.

Yet, I write Sci-Fi, and it’s hard to be accurate when your setting doesn’t exist. This brings a whole new set of rules into play, because you want the reader to be able to relate to the settings. Another issue I encountered was in borrowing fictional technology. I wanted to create my world, not copy-paste someone else’s into my writing, so you can imagine how thrilled I was when I came across a magazine that paralleled the technology found in sci-fi vs. that found in our reality. I was thrilled to find out that scientists had actually made a “transporter” of sorts, moving a molecule from one point to another, so I had no qualms using it. As for the technology that I had used or created, I wanted to be able to explain it in a way that was credible to my readers. Sometimes, this meant using diagrams, sketches and charts to go with bits of our existing technology, but the result was great.

We are fortunate today, to have endless information at the tips of our fingers, and yet there are authors who cannot be bothered (or so it seems) to be accurate in what they write. It’s not easy to write about a country you’ve never visited, let alone an era, but if you give it a little time and effort, you won’t regret the results. Of course there’s the added bonus that in the end, you will have learned a lot.

I just finished reading a book where the author went out on ride-alongs with the fire department, and interviewed the firefighters to be able to accurately portray both setting and characters. Hats off, she did a great job.

So, how do you do it? Which setting do you prefer? Come on, let us know.


  1. I write a cruise ship mystery series which uses real settings and a science fiction/fantasy series which is imaginary. However, I imagine real places I've seen in the sci-fi and "twist" them to fit my imaginary world. I just took a cruise to Alaska for the next mystery--such a chore to research. I took lots of pix and video so I can be accurate in my descriptions.

  2. Wait. But there's no problem with your friend making up a town. I mean just because a place isn't accurate doesn't mean it can be real in a reader's mine. Lots of sci-fi book places are made up like The Maze Runner. It's not a town or really any place we can go to but in our mind. Although it's nice when an author does do their research about a certain town or new invention. Interesting post.
    She’s Got Books on Her Mind

  3. I use an imaginary place every time. Same reason as your friend. But my places are lightly based on real locations to keep me grounded. :-)