Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Changing the Name of a Fictional Town

by Linda Thorne

Sometimes it's the little things about writing a novel that get authors all in a tizzy, spinning our wheels on something that may not be that important.

My second book in the Judy Kenagy mystery series, A Promotion to Die For, is set in Topeka, Kansas, but part of the setting includes Emporia where I lived for a year when I was a young woman.

Why even consider Emporia, Kansas? The reason: a one-in-a-million bizarre occurrence happened to me there on one blizzard-ridden night. I've taken that happening and written it exactly as I remembered then launched my plot from that single incident. To make the plot work I needed to move Emporia closer to Topeka, so I had to give it a fictional name. I chose Zemporia; that is, until my husband grumbled about it one too many times.

He didn't like the name. So someone told me about an quaint little town named Grandville only about fifty miles from our current home in Tennessee, so I changed the name of my fictionalized town from Zemporia to Grandville.

This past Monday, my husband and I decided to drive over and see this Tennessee town. What I didn't realize until we got there is I'd been misspelling the town name. It is Granville, Tennessee, not Grandville. We knew it wouldn't look like Emporia, Kansas but hearing of its existence was where I got the new town name (or thought I had the correct name). Not only does it look nothing like the town in my story, I chose to stay with the incorrect spelling. I like the ring of Grandville better and it's not nearly as common of a town name.
Granville, Tennessee is smaller than I expected. Here's the old general store it's known for (the real kind from the turn of the century). The name is T.B. Sutton Store.

Sutton Homestead has a guided tour of a very old home with its original furniture (see below). There's a Granville Museum around the corner too.

The town is right off the Cumberland River and there's a restaurant in a colorful aged building with a nice view of the river and a wooden swing set outside. I'm standing nearby the restaurant with the water behind me.
The picture below provides a better view of the swing set and the water:

Granville, Tennessee looks nothing like my little town now spelled Grandville in my WIP, but this is how I came up with the newer name. The fun of fiction is playing with reality until you find what works best for the story. So in A Promotion to Die For, I describe Emporia, Kansas, move it's location close in to Topeka, and give it the misspelled name of a real town in Tennessee.


Kathleen Kaska said...

I enjoyed reading your post, Linda. Most of the towns I write about are real places, but in one of my mysteries I fictionalized the name of the location, which is in a remote area of Montana. I called the town Two Horse and decided to entitle the book, A Two Horse Town. Writing fiction is a lot of fun. I like Zemporia. Maybe you can use it in another book.

Anonymous said...

I like the name Grandville! Names can convey a lot so naming places and also people as an author can really take a lot of time and thought, more than most readers probably realize.

Judithe Little

Linda Thorne said...

Kathleen, Two Horse sounds like a perfect name of a fictional town so long as it's set in a state like Montana. Not sure if it would work in some of the northeastern states. Love how you put it in a snappy title too.
Judithe, glad you like Grandville. I still think of going back to using Zemporia from time to time. My husband is so critical of it and then we have another author, Carolyn Haines, who has a successful series set in a fictional town called Zinnia. It might look like I tried to use her idea of adding the "Z." Actually, I may've got the idea from her books.

Morgan Mandel said...

It's the little things that can blog an author down at times, but also can be fun. Sometimes I use actual cities or towns, but usually when I do I make up street names. Otherwise, people could get mad. It's also fun to think up new names for towns or cities, but not always easy. Most of them are already taken.

Linda Thorne said...

Thank you, Morgan. By the time the book comes out I may a totally different town name.

Maggie King said...

I like Zemporia! Each to her/his own. I haven't yet written about a fictional town, but I do add fictional elements to real places. The Moonshine Inn in Murder at the Moonshine Inn is a heavily embellished combination of three redneck bars in Richmond, VA. Although some of the locals knew which three they were!

Liane Spicer said...

I often give the real settings of my books fictional names too. Nonwriters would not believe the amount of time, thought and research that goes into a simple place or character name! But I thoroughly enjoy the process.

Lovely shots of Granville! It looks like a very peaceful place.

Linda Thorne said...

Thank you, Maggie and Liane. Yes, the process of what goes into naming a place or character can get quite complicated. I like the idea of putting real places like the three redneck bars into one named the Moonshine Inn. I may convince my husband to let me go back to using Zemporia.

Beth Fine said...

Since I want my middle school readers to know about locations they may never travel to, I use real life places like Atlanta, Manhattan, Detroit. However, I must admit that when first starting to write, I felt concern someone might feel I slighted their hometown, especially when I used a small place like Canton, Maine. I got over that quickly figuring any true reader knows better than to get offended if a story fringes (or infringes) on their own experience and territory. After all, they are reading "fiction." For instance,although Emporians might connect Zemporia to their town with its proximity to Topeka, I say go far it if it best fits your story. Mystery readers are probably more sophisticated than provincial. Even so, I also liked how you arrived at Grandville for a possible name. That could prove to be an irony.

Linda Thorne said...

Thank you Beth for your ideas. We'll see how this plays out. If I decide to ignore my husband's protests, I may go back to Zemporia, but I could end up using something totally different (one that kind of ties into the plot). I know changing a name is something an author can do at the last minute. I had to do it with my first book. My daughter started dating a man with the same last name as one of my characters. The man called right before I sent it off to the publisher and said "Debbie and I are getting married, so if that's an issue with your character having my name here's your chance to change it." I did although I told him that my character had that name first!