Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Goodbye King James and Cleveland vs. a Fictional Setting

Good day, friends:

I am making my debut as the latest novelist to join Novel Spaces. Should be fun interacting with fellow members and those who love to read or simply like to check out interesting blogs.

Seems the big news of this past week was the "event" departure of LeBron James from Cleveland in favor of the swaying palm trees and sunshine of Miami. I wish James the best of luck in trying to bring Miami another championship with his new star teammates, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh.

Sorry for Cleveland, which will have to regroup and show that they can still remain competitive even without their superstar. At least the city has Betty White to put the spotlight on with some humor in the TV series, Hot in Cleveland.

The Cleveland saga made me think about one of my biggest dilemmas as a writer -- that is trying to decide where my novels should take place (or in some cases, the multiple settings). I often find myself vacillating between creating fictional settings and using real ones. There are pros and cons both ways.

The pros in using a real city or town: it's a place many readers will presumably be able to relate to--especially if a big city, such as New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Atlanta, etc. Even if the town is small or not as well known, if it is real, people can look up on the Internet and try to mix and match with your novel in terms of landmarks, streets, style of housing, and even the people. This makes it easier using what is already there to build your plot and characters around. As I like to include a sense of place in my stories, having real locations can take me and the characters there to enjoy.

The main con for using a real place is that unless you actually live there and have a firm grasp of the setting, the people, and such, you run the risk of being off center in your depictions that residents or those knowledgeable of the setting will catch every time. This is why I like to thoroughly research my real settings , which can be anywhere in the world, so I am as close to hitting the mark as possible. Also, it gives me and my wife a great excuse to travel close and far away from home and see all there is to see that I can then use in bringing the location and my characters to life.

The pros in using a fictional city or town: I can create a place from the ground up, so to speak, molding to fit my storyline, characters, their idiosyncrasies, and even the location's history. It can be fun to place your fictional city smack dab in the middle of a state where no such place exists. Or even near a real city, such as Detroit or Portland, where I may have my protagonists visit in blending real with fictional and giving my readers the experience of both.

The cons of creating my own setting for a novel are that it takes more time and forethought than simply going with a place that is ready from the start for my characters to go about their lives; also I lose the edge of having a real setting that readers can immediately identify with, even if having never been there. But these concerns are balanced by the three-dimensional characters themselves and their ability to reach out to and hook readers irrespective of their location from one moment to the next.

As it is, I tend to use real and fictional settings in my novels, depending on the plot itself, the characters, and how they work together. There have been times where I started one way and decided later to go in another direction in terms of fictional or real spaces and places.

Having never used Cleveland as a setting in any of my novels, I just may have to give it a go now as the city's gotten my attention; which means a new place to pencil in for me and my wife to visit.

Does it matter to you if a setting is real or fictional? If so, which do you prefer?

Or will any location suffice, so long as the plot and pacing are there along with a compelling storyline and a satisfactory resolution to the conflicts?


Farrah Rochon said...

Welcome to Novel Space, Devon! Wonderful post, and so many great points. I think that setting is so very important in a book, but as you said, there are pros and cons to both of them. There's more potential for you to get things wrong (and be called out by savvy readers) when you use real places, but developing your own fictional setting can have its own set of problems (time-intensive, to say the least!).

I've found positives in using both. In my books that were set in New Orleans the city truly became another character in the book. (How could it not, it's New Orleans!) However, I'm finding the same in a series I'm currently writing that is set in a small, fictional Louisiana town. I'm having the best time developing the town's history, and sprinkling it with local flavor.

As for which one I'd rather, it all depends on how well it's done. I love reading books set in my favorite cities (New Orleans, New York), but only if the author has taken the time to research. I also love it when fictional settings take on a world of their own. Robyn Carr's Virgin River series comes to mind. The town, in my opinion, is the main character, and readers just get a glimpse into what's been going on with the residents.

Charles Gramlich said...

I kind of like made up locations. So much easier to do the reseaerach. and you have less worries about someone writing and telling you how wrong you got it.

Devon Vaughn Archer said...

There are certainly some great reasons to use real and fictional settings for novels--which makes it so much fun for us writers in having such latitude.

In some genres, such as sci fi and paranormal, the plot makes it almost mandatory that the location be invented as real places may conflict with the happenings in the story, without straining credibility.

My current book takes place in a fictional setting in Washington State, allowing me the freedom to construct my town in a key location relative to the storyline.

However, my next two releases use real locations -- Maui and Detroit -- as the settings, which were most appropriate for the plots. In the case of Maui, there was no place I could make up in Hawaii that could match the beauty and particulars of Maui as incorporated into the story.

G said...

I use mostly my home state of Connecticut for location settings. It's easy enough for me to play with, having spent my entire life here.

I've spent so much time wandering about the state, that it's become a key component of what I write.

Shauna Roberts said...

I enjoy both real and fictional settings, as long as they're brought to life with lots of detail.

I use both in my own writing.

Welcome again, Devon, to Novel Spaces.

Katt said...

I love the research.
I needed a small town in Washington State with an airport runway long enough for a privated jet to land. Boy did I learn a about a bunch of interesting little towns!
Ah, but then, I also love the freedom of naming streets and hospitals and such myself!

Devon Vaughn Archer said...

I too love the research of either a real city/town or in creating one that will seem very real.

As a reader, I suppose I tend to favor novels that are set in real places -- especially if the setting is vivid and so compelling you wish you were there (or inspires you to want to visit).

But I also enjoy a well told and descriptive tale that takes place in a setting created totally in the writer's head.

Kathy said...

I'm doing it both ways. I used a fictional place for my historical western. My current story is set in Hawaii. I lived there for a while and loved the people and the islands. I wish I could afford a trip back there. In the name of research of course-lol. Another story I wrote during NaNo that I have simmering waiting for me to finish this one is about a fake island near New Zealand and Australia. I used those two places as points of reference.
I don't look for places that authors use in their books. I don't care if they use real or made up it is the story that I fall into.

Stefanie Worth said...

Hi, Devon -- Welcome to Novel Spaces!

I have to admit that I mix reality and fiction in my stories. But I think I can get away with that a bit more because I'm a paranormal writer. All my stories are set in Detroit. I make an effort to portray a true feel of the city, but fictionalize landmarks so I can toy with those elements as the story dictates. Because my plots require a suspension of disbelief anyway, stretching readers' minds to embrace imaginary streets, restaurants and businesses doesn't seem like it's asking too much.

Jewel Amethyst said...

Welcome to Novel spaces. So far I've always used real places in my stories, mostly places where I've lived. But I like to read novels based in fictional places as long as the author makes it realistic to the time,culture and characters.

KeVin K. said...

Welcome to the Novel Spaces!

I was once about half way through a story set in Portland -- and completely appalled at how the writer had gotten almost every detail wrong -- when I realized we were in Portland Oregon, not Maine.

In my science fiction I often have the luxury of creating completely new worlds. I've been most successful in creating a sense of place when I've relied a few telling details rather than a fully delineated description. In this age when sights and sounds from almost anywhere on earth can be found in moments, a scent or a sensation can be both more evocative and exotic.

Phyllis Bourne said...

Hi Devon! And welcome!

I prefer to write fictional, small town settings near larger real cities. Then I get to be 'town boss' and put things where I want 'em.

Liane Spicer said...

Welcome, Devon!

As a reader, I don't care whether settings are real or fictional so long as the author brings them to life. A well-evoked fictional setting trumps a badly-written true-to-life correctly-detailed one any day.

As a writer, I anchor my settings in places with which I'm very familiar. Even though the island and the towns may be real, the actual streets might be fictional, but when I'm writing them you can be sure I have the image of a real street in mind.

In the instances where minor scenes take place in unfamiliar settings, such as the Jersey airport scene in one of my novels, I research it to the hilt.