August 25, 2020

Real Towns or Fictional Towns?

Susan Reichert @swmeditor

Many authors choose their hometown for their novel’s setting.

I loved the town I grew up in. Being a small town, in the 1950s it only had about 1500 people, give or take a few.

In the town itself, everyone knew everyone. Families had lived there for generations.

For me to write a novel and use where I grew up as the setting, I would not be able to write a horror, a thriller or anything that would shine a bad light on this town. I cannot imagine anything bad happening in that town nor anyone bad living there. That sounds a little like nirvana I know, but to me that is the town I grew up in.

How wonderful authors can set their novels in their hometowns because they are already knowledgeable of where everything is so it will make it easy for them to add buildings and other settings. Probably helps with creating characters too.

In writing something you know so well, you would think it would be easy, but I dare say for some authors it would not be so easy. I believe you would have to visit and look at the scenery through eyes of a writer, making notes describing places and buildings, even the scenery of nature.

In doing this you would be able to determine where you are going to take liberties to add buildings, such as houses and stores, restaurants, and other items as needed for the story.

In a small town, everyone knows you and your family background. Every time I visit, which is about once a year, I see people I know. The first thing out of their mouth is “You look just like your mother!” They know me, my name and they know my mother. If they are old enough, they will mention my grandparents who have been dead for many years. And you remember them, their children, and their parents.

For me, I would find it hard to create a character based on any of these people or on people I knew from the past in this small town. I know for sure I could not create a fiction person and make them all bad for fear people who knew me would be wondering who I was talking about. Yet authors do create characters based on people they know.

I am sure there are stories in my small town that if I chose to dig them out, I could find interesting things to create a good story. Since I would be writing about the town I know, it would certainly make research easier. I have also heard that when you place your story in a real place it gives it an anchor of sorts. Certainly, using real people, places and happenings would produce ideas for creating a good book.

Yet, writing about your small town and creating characters from people you know could make them wonder if you based that character on them or someone they know. Same things if you used a real store, they would wonder if you were basing it on their store or one, they know. Obviously, you risk offending people and a town you care about.

For me, the simple thing to do, is not use the real small town or its people.

I would have to make up a small town, make up the stores and the people. But nothing says I cannot draw ideas from the small town I grew up in.

Which do you prefer? Setting a story in your hometown or creating a fictional town?

Susan L Reichert is the author of God's Prayer Power and Storms of Life. She is the past Editor-in-Chief of Southern Writers Magazine. She is the Director of Southern Author Services and President of Collierville Christian Writers Group.

She and her husband live in Tennessee and have four daughters and three grandsons.


  1. More often, I place my stories in a fictional town. That said, I have a few stories set in towns I've lived in. The problem arises if my story needs something that isn't or wasn't there. Case in point: in my book releasing June 1st, On Sugar Hill, the story is set in 1929-30. Sugar Hill wasn't a town then, just a militia district. I needed a general store near enough for my character to bicycle to it. There was one, but it didn't get built until 1934. So, with permission from the owner's great-niece, I used it and put a comment in the author's note. You do what you gotta do. :)

  2. That's fantastic Ane. Isn't it great that authors have flexibility and people are so nice!

    Can't wait to read this new book. I truly like your style writing.

  3. There are pluses and minuses to both. lol. In your hometown, whether it be big, like Memphis where I grew up or small like my present hometown, you have to get your facts and streets straight. My next series is going to be a small, fictional town where I can put my streets and businesses where I want to. lol Great question.

  4. Thanks Patricia. There are pros and cons to both...I would think fictional would give the author more creative