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Location Settings

Posted by xccj , in Stories Dec 13 2013 · 397 views

Hey look I'm going back to referencing an arch of stories that I've never posted online and probably never will but I'll talk about them anyway.
So, my story is set in a city. A very specific city. It has a fairly developed down town, with plenty of skyscrapers and major businesses. It also has a well-developed port area, with lots of warehouses and shipping yards on a bay. Plus it hosts a major university, and about an hour’s drive away are fields for farming.
The problem is that I have never named this city.
Maybe I've read too many Animorph books, where they've always been ambiguous about the exact location where everything's taking place. And while in some of the earlier stories it wasn't a big deal about what city it was in, some of the latter ones have me going out of my way to keep the city anonymous. I'm starting to worry that I may be going in the wrong direction.
And this is not based off any particular city either, but rather a mesh of what I want for my fictitious location. I guess a fair bit is based on Seattle, but the locations are less cut up by inlets like that city is. And it doesn't really fit with the geography of Portland either, although the freeway through the middle of down town concept is similar. Perhaps it could fit with some place in California, but in general I would place them on the east coast. And I haven't even mentioned any mountains, which do vary between the various cities.
So the way I see it, I have three options. One is to continue to have an unnamed city, and then just add features to it as I need them for the story. The other is to create a fictitious city, like Gotham or Angel Grove, which would theoretically be a city in the US but won't actually exist. (Also like Kokomo) The third is I should just choose a city that fits in well enough and stick with it. (Although if it's not Seattle or Portland, then it'll be a lot harder to write about accurately.)
So, does anybody have any thoughts on this? What have you done for your stories?

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Dec 13 2013 06:57 PM
My charecters will end up taking refuge in an abandoned lab outside of some california city. It was just going to be san diego, but it's simpler to do that. I try best not to mess with stuff like that, as it will bug me that it will never be perfectly correct if I do it in a city... my advice would be to keep the location ambiguous unless otherwise required.

I really need to continue that story...
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Dec 13 2013 07:12 PM

It's hard to say without knowing what you're story is about, but there are definitely some stories that work better with unnamed locations. The first that comes to mind is The Road. Without giving away locations (except for 'East Coast', which I think was more implied than stated) the story has a much more personal feel to it. Given the story is about a father/son relationship rather than a location based journey, I think it's rather appropriate. For a for 'normal' story, The Outsiders works in a similar way (aside from 'Oklahoma' I don't believe any location is mentioned).


I'd avoid the 'fictional city.' Unless the story is outright fantasy it always feels contrived to me. Especially when you have stories like Nolan's Batman films, in which Gotham is basically Gotham in name only. The Dark Knight might as well have been set in Chicago. It does seem like your city is developing as the fictional type, given that it's an amalgamation of city traits your familiar with, but I'm not saying that's a bad thing. If your story works better as the fictional type then stay with it. (Also it prevents you from having to do lots of research about one particular city. :P )


If the city is important to the story, to the point where it's like it's own character, then name it, even if it is fictional. The best example I can think of here is like New York and (almost) any Woody Allen movie, although it's not a very good one. Nolan's Gotham never felt like a character so much as a contrived setting which is why I'm not too fond of it.


There's my two cents. I don't know if it helps.

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Well, I feel like I'm doing a lot what Animorphs did for the location.  (See, they couldn't tell us where they were because they didn't want the Yeerks to find out... and that kind of paranoia makes it so that I wasn't surprised that the government has been listening to all our calls.  The Yeerks have been doing that since the late 90s.)


But anyway, although the Animorphs never gave us their city by name (in the end it was just kinda confirmed that it was somewhere in California) they described various aspects of it, like the amusement park, nearby forests and mountains, beaches, the malls, and downtown district.  (Coincidentally, the only named building in my fictional city is the Horking Building which it totally named after the Hork Bajir.)  When you put together all the clues from the descriptions, you can start to guess where they might be, but there's not one exact city that has all of it, since I'm pretty sure the author stated that she didn't have one single city in mind.


I really started to think about this when I sent some of my characters to South America, and I had to figure out "Hey, where did they actually come from?" when thinking about flights and boat rides and such.  Some of that's simplified since I narrowed it down to the Pacific coast, but all the same...


Thanks for your thoughts!



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