Monday, August 30, 2010

Modern . . . Make Believe

It's an interesting dichotomy. In historicals, we're told we have to stick to recorded facts where we can, but anything not recorded we're free to play with. I'm mostly cool with that. But in contemporaries, it's a little different, right? History's being recorded as we speak, and there's very little these days that goes unnoticed. But still we novelists need room to work. So . . .

More often than not, we create within the bounds of our world but take liberties. Like, oh, towns. This is one that comes up often on the ACFW loop. Rather than set a book in a real life town and risk getting it wrong, we often choose fictional settings near real places. That gives us the freedom to put a coffeeshop wherever we please but still describe landscape and climate with accuracy.

There are exceptions to this, of course. If you want to set a book in a place you know very well, the risk of "getting it wrong" is far, far less. So go for it. And cities are also an exception, since they generally encompass more of what we need for a story.

I've done both in my books. Note to Self I set in Annapolis and Arnold, MD--a place I lived for six years. For that story I could work very well within the confines of reality, and I had fun sending my characters on short-cuts I'd driven and to restaurants I'd walked past daily while in college. In Yesterday's Tides, I wanted an authentic Outer Banks town, but things down there change so rapidly I knew I'd better create one. So I named a town after the island (Bodie) and nestled it in the dunes between Southern Shores and Duck where really there's a stretch of nothing. Then I was free to plop down whatever church I pleased, have a restaurant wherever I needed it, place an inn there, etc.

That said, I get really excited when I find a book--historical or contemporary--set in my neck of the woods. Sometimes they name places I know, which is awesome, and sometimes I get to try to figure out where their fictional town is in relation to the places I know so well. Always fun when an author does it well.


  1. There seem to be a lot of books set in Texas and it's always fun when they're set around my area. Most of the time they make up a fictional town but they will talk about the real towns around it. I enjoy the Love Finds You series and the way they use real towns and include the history of that town. That's pretty cool!

    Michelle V

  2. I always enjoy visiting a town that I have read about! A good book can bring in valuable revenue to the sleepy economy, if enough descriptions are available for people to recognise. (Look what a certain secular book did for a floundering lumber town in Washington State!) It brings our imagination to life.