One of the biggest decisions I make every time I start a new novel is where I want it to take place. Sometimes the setting comes along as part of the plot, other times it really doesn’t matter at all where the action takes place, leaving me free to come up with any kind of setting I want. Should I have the action set in San Diego or make up a small California town? Heck, maybe I should make up my own country. Or I could just have the novel take place in Italy. Both sides come with advantages and disadvantages. Let’s take a look.
Advantage. I think this one’s pretty obvious, but I’ll talk about it anyway: everything’s there for you. Want your characters to go to a fancy Mexican restaurant? Head over to Google and type in “fancy Mexican restaurants San Diego.” In just a few seconds, you’ll have at your fingertips ratings and reviews of hundreds of restaurants. Want your characters to go shopping at an eco-friendly store? Just search for eco-friendly stores in San Diego. Easy-peasy.
Disadvantage. Let’s say you have your characters walking a shopping-friendly street that Google so helpfully located for you. You don’t feel like looking up all the stores on the street, so you make up a few that the characters pass before they reach the store you want them to be in. Your book comes out, and a reader is delighted to realize your characters are in her neighborhood! But wait, her neighborhood doesn’t have those stores. She’s annoyed, and your credibility as a writer is shot. Now, odds are, the majority of your readers won’t care. But some will, so you have to be okay with that.
Advantage. You get to make up a whole city, county, or country! How great is that? You want your town to have a Main Street? Cool, it has one. Three Italian restaurants? Awesome, you can name them after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Want your country to have two kings and five queens? Great, they’ve been crowned. It’s your setting, and your rules.
Disadvantage. You have to remember all the rules and keep them consistent. Does Main Street have five stoplights or six? Are the Italian restaurants all right next to each other, or spread out over town? How can a country have two kings and five queens? These are all things you should know, even if they’re not essential to your plot. Unfortunately, coming up with all these little details can be time-consuming and take away from actual writing time.
Which do you prefer in your fiction writing, using a real setting or making one up?