I’ve published books with both real settings (New York / Queens; Peculiar, Missouri; Fair Grove, Missouri; my hometown of Springfield, Missouri, Lake of the Woods, Minnesota) and fictional cities (“Willow Springs” Missouri). Even in my real settings, though, I take plenty of liberties—especially in my YA, FERAL, in which I completely fictionalized the town of Peculiar, Missouri. (I just had to use that name!)
While many authors gravitate toward setting their books in regions or cities that they’re familiar with, I’ve discovered some definite advantages to placing my work in fictional cities:
1. You don’t get mired in research. As I said, many authors prefer to write about locations they’re already familiar with—but if it’s a new-to-you location, or if you’re writing about a different time period, you can get lost in learning the details—which streets intersected, which businesses were present, names of schools, etc. It can take some serious time away from actually getting your writing on the page.
2. Your town becomes a character. If you aren’t relying on what already is, you have to craft your town or location just as you would a main character. This can help add a new, often metaphorical dimension to your novel as well.
3. Your reader isn’t pulled out of the story. If you pick a real location, you’re bound to have readers who live in (or are well-versed with) the area where your book takes place. Bloggers and reviewers always mention the spots in which my own fictional world deviates from the real world when I pick actual cities for my novels. But if your location is fictional, your readers will be immersed in the story only, and won’t be comparing your own setting to the city they know.
How about you? What’s your preference as a reader or a writer? Fictional locations or real ones?