Choosing a setting- real or not?

When I wrote I Wish… I set it in a totally fictional town called Desire. I wanted to be able to create a town that lived up to my idea of what a town populated with a bunch of witches would look like. There wouldn’t be a “bad part” of town since every family would be incredibly wealthy due to the powers they have access to. I also wanted it to be filed with elegant old Victorian houses that have been around for years and will continue to be there for generations to come.

No real town would live up to the picture I had in my mind’s eye. So I went crazy building a town. I have maps of who lives where and different street names, even though I haven’t needed that information in the story. It’s just nice to know. Nobody can take offense to anything that happens in this town because it’s a totally made up place.

So now as I’m planning this new story, I’m considering setting it in Savannah, GA. Savannah has quite a reputation as a haunted place. It’s full of atmosphere and awesome old buildings. And from a world building perspective, it’s a lot less work since you can just use existing maps and names.

The downfall is that if I use a real place and take certain liberties with it, I risk upsetting people who have actually visited that town. I remember reading Stephen King’s The Stand when I was younger. He wrote a note somewhere, possibly in the foreword, but it might have been somewhere completely outside of the book, saying that he made a lot of mistakes such as turning a ticket booth or something similar in a New York subway into a toilet. I’m heavily paraphrasing here, obviously, but the point is that everyone makes mistakes, even the wildly successful people.

I have an extremely limited knowledge of Savannah. To write about it is to risk making a lot of mistakes. I’m thinking about going for it anyway because the setting is perfect for the story I want to tell.

I know another option that some people use is to create an alternative place where all the magic happens in a real place. A hidden street, a pocket dimension, or something else along those lines. But that route won’t work for this story so for now it’s not on the table as an option.

Anybody have any opinions one way or another?

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “Choosing a setting- real or not?

  1. Yeah – I’ve always struggled with “real or not real” myself. However, many writers use real places for the mere fact that you can’t always have a completely made up place. A story about a Hollywood director killing a Hollywood actress would have to be set in Hollywood – even if the writer was from Chicago! I say go for it. Savannah is a great setting for a story, and you can always put some type of disclaimer in the front if you feel you need to. If you haven’t read Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil – it’s a true story about a murder in Savannah, and has a lot of detail about the town itself.

  2. In the novel I am completing, I used Annapolis, Maryland as one of three locations in my novel. I did take some liberties–I used the names of real places, or places that used to exist during the 80s and 90s when my story takes place. However, I never mention the name of the college where my main character works. I left that to the reader’s imagination…

    Incidentally, the town where I live in Maryland called Ellicott City, is supposed to be one of the most haunted towns on the east coast. Lots of ghost lore here…I even wrote about it on my blog around Halloween!!

    Such fun stuff! Best of luck with it.

    • I used to live in Ft. Meade, Maryland. I’ve been to Annapolis a few times (a really good town to to a pub crawl, as it happens). I wish I would have known that about Ellicott City. I drove by it dozens of times on my way to somewhere else. I could have easily made a trip just to enjoy some of the haunted places. I still have a really close friend who lives in MD. I’ll see if I can get her to have some adventures for me and report back.

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