Real City or Made-up City?

I can’t decide if I should call my city by its real name or by a made-up name. Originally, I was using a city I’ve been to enough to know decently well, but then, someone questioned whether that was a good idea. Now, I’m not sure.

This feels a bit silly, but I’m basically going to think out loud in this post. That way, if anyone notices flaws in my logic or has feedback, you can tell me (you would tell me, right?).

Using a Real City in Fantasy

My story is set in modern society, so I could definitely use a real city’s name. And there do seem to be some pluses to that.

Real City Pros

The advantages I can think of are…

  • There are ready-made places and history (less work in a way).
  • It’s fun for a reader to recognize places in the story (it is for me, anyway!).
  • Existing places and history can help inspire the story.

Real City Cons

Unfortunately, there are also downsides:

  • If I get something wrong, readers will get irritated or thrown out of the story (this is what my friend pointed out to me).
  • If what I use changes, the detail will immediately “date” my story. Granted, some technology will do that, too, but I’d hate the story to feel old sooner than it needs to.
  • If I have an incompetent person (like a police officer, to use a trope example), and I mention a real police force, then, somebody might get insulted. That’s not a huge deal breaker (If I worry too much about people getting insulted, I won’t write anything.), but it is a potential negative.

Using a Made-up City in Fantasy

The obvious solution to the cons is either to try to guess what won’t change and be as accurate as possible OR make up a city like the real city but with a different name.

Made-up City Pros

It does solve the real-city issues.

  • No one will think something’s inaccurate because it’s made up. They’ve never been there.
  • Same for changes – nothing’s going to change in my made-up city unless I change it.
  • I can make the city the way I need it to be for the story. Need these two neighborhoods to be near each other for continuity? No problem. Need a railroad track or a river there? Done.

I was thinking the incompetent person example might be solved, too, but it might actually be broadened. Now, instead of insulting one police force, it would more vaguely be insulting all of them (not that I intend to use that trope).

Made-up City Cons

Yes, there are some down-sides, too:

  • Coming up with a believable-sounding name is really hard. Major cities in the U.S. are almost all named after historic figures or places in Europe, and there’s a lot of overlap between states. So trying to come up with a name that sounds like a big city in the U.S. for today’s world is no easy task.
  • It adds more worldbuilding work. Now, I love worldbuilding, but when I started this, I was using a real city, and it was fun to try to focus on the magic and then use real places and culture. Integrating the two is really interesting! If I change to the made-up city, I can use some of the real city’s characteristics, but I’ll also have to spend time making up new aspects and names for various places. Because if I leave it exactly the same except for the name, I lose all the benefit (people will be able to tell the real city).

What Do You Think?

Do you think I should switch to a made-up city? Or is it not that big a deal if something changes in the real city? Or if I get a slight detail wrong?

I’m really curious what other people think. Because I’m struggling with making the decision on my own!


4 thoughts on “Real City or Made-up City?

  1. I don’t worry about getting details wrong. I know it bugs people but it’s fiction so I think it’s fine. Unless you’re trying to make a big deal about how accurate your work or those details are important to the story and people should accept it. You’re never going to get everything right anyway.

    Example, one of the guys I game with is a crane operator so any time there’s a scene in a movie with a crane he loses his mind because it’s “wrong”.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I appreciate the feedback! It’s definitely been a conundrum to me, and I keep going back and forth on what I’m going to do. It’s good to know that it doesn’t bug everyone that much!

      I know computer developers who are the same way when anything involves “hacking.” It makes me wonder if anything we see in fiction is really accurate.

      Like

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