Friday, December 6, 2019

Can You Use Real Place Names in Your Books? Can You Fictionalize Details?

Maggie is writing a novel about a group of people living in a made-up place, based on a real location.  She faced a dilemma this month about how much freedom she has, as a fiction writer, to use real places in her story. 

"The reader knows my novel takes place in Minnesota," Maggie told me. "I want to reference lakes, counties and towns that one of the characters--a realtor--covers.  These places are my real-world reference points."  

My first novel was based in a real-life place--the Adirondack mountains of New York State--and included real towns.  I made sure I visited those towns, used accurate information, but I also fictionalized parts and said so in my author's notes.  I know many writers do this.  But it is a good question to ask.

Here's a great post from Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers about this, by an award-winning novelist (if the link doesn't work, go to and search for the topic).  She provides enough clues to orient readers who know the area but fictionalizes many of the details to protect her privacy (she lives in one of the towns in one of her books) and avoid any connections to residents there (some of her fictional characters are nasty).  

That's smart advice, in my opinion.  When I wrote about another small Adirondack town in my second novel, I changed just enough details--but kept enough to orient readers who knew the area.  Again, a disclaimer went into my author notes.

Goodreads had a helpful discussion about this quite a few years ago, worth checking out again if you're interested.  Link is here.  

For me, a disclaimer (This story is based on a real place but the author fictionalized elements to protect individuals' privacy--or something like that) helps me feel more at ease.  But as I said above, I do my homework and include accurate details when required.

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