Facets of a Muse

Examining the guiding genius of writers everywhere

Fiction in real life settings


You’ve heard that truth is stranger than fiction, right? Writers struggling with plotting or generating ideas are often told to look at the latest news stories, especially obscure ones, for ideas.

On the flip side, and more common, is fiction taking place in the real world. From Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum in the streets of Trenton, NJ to William Kent Kreuger’s Cork O’Connor in northern Minnesota, fiction takes place in the world we know. Unless we are writing science fiction or fantasy (except urban fantasy), we use places we’ve visited, or places we’ve heard about from other people who’ve been there. Maybe we get a great idea for a story, then go “on location” to the place we want to use as our setting. (Hmm, maybe I should set my next book in Hawaii. Or the Caribbean. Or New Zealand. πŸ™‚ )

Even urban fantasy uses real life places. Jim Butcher’s Harry Dresden is a resident of Chicago (LOVE Dresden!), Kim Harrison’s Hollows series is set in Cincinnati and the surrounding area, and Kevin Hearne’s Iron Druid series spans the globe from Arizona to Japan and the UK.

Research is a great reason to travel and see places we want to write about. Sometimes, though, we stick closer to home because that’s what we know. Maybe it’s the place where we grew up. I’ve set a book in a small town in rural Minnesota similar to the one I now live near. Maybe it’s a place we lived while in college. Maybe it’s the place we visited and wish we could move to (Kauai, definitely. Or maybe Seattle.)

The book I’m working on (shhh, don’t say anything about my still-unfinished outline–I don’t need my Muse showing up just now) is set in a place where I lived while in aviation school way back when. Like, 25+ years ago (OMG, I was in college 26 years ago. Holy shit–I’m getting old.)

Needless to say, there’ve been some changes in the past quarter century. Even though my book is set in the early 90s, some things are the same. Some things are vastly different. (I see a road trip in my future. πŸ™‚ ) So I hop onto Google (gotta love the Internet for research!) and search for my old alma mater.

Lots of changes. As in, “holy cow, seriously?” changes. Definitely a road trip in my future for research, and a bit of nostalgia along the way.

But (there’s always a “but”, right?) depending on the story, it’s a good idea to make a few things up along the way. Unless you’re writing historical stuff that needs to be fairly accurate, that is. You don’t want readers to stop by your main character’s “real” house, the one you saw during your driving tour and decided would be perfect for your character. Imagine having strangers knocking on the door and asking to see Sassy Simpson’s bedroom where she found that bloody knife, or Logan Loveless’ kitchen where he finally kissed his dream girl.

And you, as the homeowner, have no idea who they’re talking about, even though they’re waving a book and pointing to the chapter that relates said event in mind-blowing detail.

Yep, probably not the best idea. That doesn’t mean you can’t use the setting, just tweak it a bit. Add a street or three that don’t exist in real life to plant your main character’s domicile. Rename some real life businesses or create some new ones in town.

Hey, it’s fiction, it’s supposed to be made up.

Er, I’d better get back to my outline. My Muse hasn’t shown up yet, but I suspect he will soon. It’s a super-nice weekend, an “April in February” weekend, so I’ll have to squeeze in a little garden planning. And taxes. Ugh.

And a walk or three. You know, to help me with my outline πŸ˜€

Have a great writing weekend!


Author: Julie Holmes, author

Pen names: J. M. Holmes, J. M. Goebel A fiction writer since elementary school (many years ago), and NaNoWriMo annual participant for a decade, I've been published in small press magazines such as "Fighting Chance" and "The Galactic Citizen". I write adult mystery with a touch of romance, mystery with extrasensory elements, contemporary fantasy, and epic fantasy, and I'm represented by the fabulous Cynthia Zigmund of Second City Publishing Services. In real life, I am a technical writer with a family of two teens, a wonderful hubby, one cat (what writer doesn't have cats??), two dogs, two chickens, and more chipmunks, squirrels, and rabbits than any garden should have to deal with. My garden, our hobby farm, and Nature's annual seasons are some of my muses.

16 thoughts on “Fiction in real life settings

  1. I wuss out a lot when it comes to setting, usually going for the fictional town in an area I know well. Probably why most of my books are set in Pennsylvania or along the eastern seaboard. There is something really cool about using an actual locale, though. I thoroughly enjoyed writing about Point Pleasant, West Virginia…..exploring the area in person and layering in accuracy (along with bits of my own made up businesses, streets, etc).

    Google is an awesome help when you need to use setting in a place you’re unfamiliar with. Google Earth is another great tool to make you feel like you’re actually there.

    Good post, Julie….and I’ll tell Mr. E. to distract your muse for awhile πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s so much easier writing about familiar places! Going “on location” though, I think, gives us another reason to travel someplace cool and learn some of the history. I love the details about Point Pleasant; makes me want to go there to see the TNT and where the bridge used to be. Research rocks!

      Love Google Earth! I used it when I wrote one of my books set in San Francisco. I’ve been to SF, but not for years. The street view is awesome.

      LOL! Yes, maybe E can take my Muse on a pub crawl; it’s warm enough this weekend they can check out the pub patios πŸ˜€

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Good idea to mix it up a bit! Definitely don’t want readers crashing that adorable house on the corner! Ha ha.
    For one of my books, I did place it in a real place, the Pittock Mansion in Portland, OR. But it’s open to the public (for a fee). People can actually go in and take a tour and see all the rooms where the book happened. That’s kind of fun when it works out. Happy Road Trip, Julie. Sounds like fun.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh, cool! Yes, if it’s a public place, all the better, but then again you’d have to hit the details because you know someone will find a discrepancy and write to you to point it out. Makes me think about the Glensheen mansion in Duluth and its infamous story about the still-unsolved murder of the last of the Cogden family heirs.

      Gotta love road trips!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I am definitely going to need a research trip to Hawaii. And Paris. And Tuscany.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Would those research trips be tax deductible?

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Julie, I’m a bit late getting to this…I hope you’ve had a great weekend with a chance for gardening and walks. Spring came here as it hit 18 degrees centigrade – wonderful to sit out for lunches. As for taxes, yikes, grrr…are they all done?

    This is a great post and how true to ‘tweak’ local places etc even if from years ago. It sounds like you’re having fun the outline, drawing on memories and researching – are you still managing to give that Muse a slip…or perhaps you need some input?πŸ˜€πŸ˜ƒ

    Liked by 1 person

    • Spring is still hinting here, but soon to be sent on walkabout when the snowstorm arrives on Friday–ugh.

      So far, I’ve managed to evade my Muse, but I suspect he’ll catch up to me soon. It’ll be good; I think I need some encouragement, though my walks have been good for getting the ideas churning. I kind of look forward to a road trip to my old aviation school. I looked them up on the web, and learned one of my old instructors is still there! And boy, he’s gotten old. They expanded the hangar, too, at some point, and now they have a whole lot more airplanes than we did back in the day. It’d be neat to see the upgrade!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Thank you for dropping by. What a wonderful blog you have! And this particular topic is one that has been much on my mind lately as I keep working on my current novel project. I am a firm believer in setting. My novel takes place in my general area: North Alabama–south Tennessee during late spring, so now I’m taking notes as to what flowers are blooming and when trees bud out and so forth and so on.

    So thanks again, and I look forward to the next blog! πŸ™‚

    Liked by 1 person

    • So glad you stopped by, Paul. Glad you enjoyed this. Yep, taking notes on the seasons in the setting lends authenticity to the story. Reminds me of a story I critiqued that had the sun setting by 7:30pm in June (summer solstice = a much later sunset). Tossed me right out of the story. Write on!

      Liked by 1 person

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