Using an actual place in a novel but making it less accurate

by Carole Johnson
(Haddam Neck, CT)

Question: Is there a disclaimer when using an actual place in a novel, yet wanting it to fit into your story, so taking some "poetic license."?

Also, can I just make up the names of towns near the place in my novel that actually exists?

Example: The State Capitol. and towns near it in a named state.

Must it all be accurate?

Answer: When you are using a setting that is real (such as a state capitol), you have to bear in mind that many readers will be familiar with it. Some who aren't will look it up. You can't go changing the layout because you will loose credibility.

On the other hand, you are free to make up a fictional town or other setting that would reasonably fit into the broader geographic region. Writers often change the name of a town so they can alter it a bit, or make it a combination of elements from two or more real towns they know.

You can only do this really with locations that are relatively unknown. It would be impossible in a contemporary novel, for instance, to make up a fictional capitol city of the United States, because everyone in the world knows what the capitol is. Similarly, it would be impossible to create a fictional mountain range with giant faces of past Presidents carved into them because everyone knows there is only one Mt. Rushmore. (Of course, if you're writing science fiction or fantasy, the situation would be different.)

On the other hand, so many books have fictional small mid-west towns. And even if some of your readers are from the small town you used as your model, you should have changed enough names and features that they cannot be certain.

Best of luck.

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