Fictitious Setting

by Vijay Kumar

Question: Thanks for your Novel Planning Book and all the other information made available on your site.

I've been writing my fourth Mystery series novel and my sleuth is based in one of the southern cities called Hyderabad. I conceived a few ideas about my works, but the setting I have planned doesn't exist in that area of the city. For Example, my current novel is set in a temple in some part of the city, but it doesn't exist in reality. Another scenario is I've conceived a waterfall outside the city outskirts, but it doesn't exist there.

Is it all right to go ahead and write the novels with such settings or should my setting include the real places? What can be the target audience's reaction if I write with these fictitious settings in my works?


Answer: You say your setting is "based on" an actual city. Does this mean it's the actual city of Hyderabad, or a fictional city that resembles Hyderabad? It will make a difference.

If your setting is based on the actual city, but you have changed the name, then you are free to redesign it how you like, as long as you stay in keeping with the general climate and geography. All the reader may need to know is the general part of the world where the city is located (e.g. Southern India). Perhaps name the state it's located in, but not the exact place. This can be the best option if the setting does not matter a lot in the story and you want to keep the focus elsewhere.

However, it is often better to use an actual city, and use its real name, because you can create an atmosphere of authenticity by including many real landmarks and details of life in
that city, including not only buildings but cultures, history, food, attitudes shared by people living there, etc. Many of the best stories are so connected to their setting that it would be impossible for the story to happen anywhere else.

Readers who know the city may enjoy reading about familiar places in the city. Or they may travel there in the future and enjoy spotting landmarks from the book. Some readers like mysteries to have a unique twist -- such as being set in a real part of the world they have never been. They like to learn about other places while enjoying a good story.

When you use a real place and its real name, you are still free to fictionalize the setting a little. For instance, maybe there are many temples in a certain part of the city. You could create a fictional temple that resembles a real one (or one that is similar to several in that area) but give it a name that doesn't exist. Perhaps keep the address a little vague.

What you must bear in mind is that readers who are familiar with that city will notice if you are being quite inauthentic. For example, if there are no waterfalls anywhere near the actual city, or if the geography is wrong for waterfalls, that may make it harder for some readers to accept your invention of waterfalls. In that case, it might be better to look for an actual landmark where your scene can take place.

On the other hand, if there are numerous waterfalls near the actual city, perhaps you can invent one without seeming inauthentic.

If there is only one famous waterfall in that part of the world, readers may assume that's the one you're describing, even if you change the name.

Best of luck.

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