Is it okay to have a completely fictional setting for an otherwise realistic story?

Question Writing a story which takes place in a city where I've never truly lived in is treacherous. I've seen a lot of comments on other books pointing out that the author must have never been living in the city their story has taken place so that they made a lot of mistakes about the setting. I'm very cautious about picking a suitable setting for my story and I know the city I'm living in isn't a suitable place. This has been bothering me for a long time. If my story is supposed to take place in a generic, interchangeable big city, can I create a completely fictional setting instead of picking a real one? I know this wouldn't even be a problem if I'm writing fantasy or sci-fi, but I'm writing an otherwise realistic and supposed to be relatable story that borders on contemporary romance and chick lit. Will I make my story less relatable if I use a completely fictional setting? Will it be a lot better if I pick a real city?

I'm now using Manhattan as a setting in my first draft just like a lot of writers do, but I found out despite my deliberate effort of trying to point out that this is Manhattan, New York, the city is not so much different from other big cities. It would have been the same if it happens in L.A., probably despite some minor change of pop culture references. It would be the same even in London or any other big cities -- maybe not
"any", since there's some other big cities that are so different culturally, but you get the idea. I think although Manhattan is okay as a setting of the story, I'm still unsure if I could handle it as a setting, and there're some minor details that doesn't feel like Manhattan although they're not impossible to happen there. So I'm thinking about changing to a fictional city or to never mention where the story takes place in attempt to make the writing easier.

Answer: In some ways, I think it would be easier to invent a fictional small town than a major city. There are so many small towns that most readers don't know about, while everyone knows something about New York.

That said, there's no reason why you can't invent a fictional city for your story, even if you base it on New York. This can take some of the pressure off. You don't have to get the geography exactly right.

Nonetheless, the challenge is to make the story world -- whether actual, historical, or invented -- feel real. It's the specific details that lend the setting the feel of reality.

Of course, different stories place different emphasis on setting. In some stories, the setting is so integrated that the story simply could not take place anywhere else. In others, the setting is a backdrop that receives little attention.

As the writer, you get to decide what elements to emphasize -- character, plot, setting, subject matter, etc. Just make sure that the elements you do put attention on feel authentic.

Click here to post comments

Join in and submit your own question/topic! It's easy to do. How? Simply click here to return to Questions About Novel Writing.