I am editing a novel manuscript for a client of mine. It's a historical fiction set in 1948, so not that long ago. The main character lives in a house above a cafe that I believe is fictional within the real city the novel is set in. At one point, the address of the cafe is mentioned. Currently, the full address is not given, just the street it is on and some dashes in place of a house number.

Is it ethical to give a house address in a fictional novel that corresponds to a real-world place? Would the owners of that house be annoyed? Would it be better to come up with a non-existent house number along the desired street? (If so, would that be hard?)

The client is considering self-publishing, so there is no publishing house editor I should ask.

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    Is there a narative requirement for the adress to be given, or can it be hedged by just saying 'It's on X street.'?
    – CLockeWork
    Jul 15, 2014 at 8:21
  • @CLockeWork It's a medical Q&A. The clerk is asking questions to verify the identity of the main character, and that's one of them. I have to give a real address: I can't hedge.
    – Jerenda
    Jul 15, 2014 at 14:41
  • @Jarenda, OK, is it required that the interview be line by line dialogue, or could it be shown along the lines of 'The doctor went through the usual questions; how old was I, what was my address, was my father ever a member of the miner's unions... I answered truthfully, not much point lying to him.'
    – CLockeWork
    Jul 15, 2014 at 15:19
  • @CLockeWork, It probably isn't, and that seems like a good method of side-stepping the problem, but as I mentioned it's not my story. I'm only proofreading it, and as such I can't really make major changes to it. I will, however, suggest it to the author as an option, so thank you.
    – Jerenda
    Jul 15, 2014 at 16:57
  • No problem @Jerenda, I didn't realise you were just proofreading, thought you were doing a full edit :)
    – CLockeWork
    Jul 16, 2014 at 8:21

3 Answers 3


In historical fiction use real address for real historical events. If a real historical figure lived in a house that is there to this day, use it. If some real place was a famous hangout of some society, use it. If you know of historical events that took at a specific location, have them re-enacted there in your story.

Say, you write a story about the artistic society of Young Poland, in Cracow. Even if your artist is purely fictional, it would be entirely shameful if he didn't hang out at Jama Michalika. That's where all the artists stayed, in particular encouraged by the owner accepting the tab being paid with sketches, drawings, paintings and murals (depending on size of the tab, as you can guess some were quite sizable...).

Things like these really add immense amount of flavor for historical fiction.

Don't hesitate either, if that's a public building - a school, a church, a museum, an embassy. These are a fair game and feel free to put your action in there. Even if that was a private house back in the day.

Now, if you need a generic location at a private house, and you need to give the address - best if you pick one that did exist back then but doesn't, anymore. Razed, entirely rebuilt, even just numbering changed. A place where fans can come and say "And here stood the house of..." If you have trouble finding such a location, then make up one. Tack a number or two at the end of a street. Make it at crossing of two streets that don't cross. Place it between two buildings that are adjacent to each other. And if you don't need to give an address, give a real description of the building without pointing its exact location. It's another bit of flavor, "the house with a relief of two cherubs above the gate", it's a very nice touch and you're still safe.

There's one more approach. Pick a historical figure and "hijack" their history, while keeping locations true to that person's history. Say, you write a steampunk novel, with a genius scientist developing distillation of crude oil into volatile fuels? Why, make him work at a pharmacy in the building of the city hall of Gorlice.

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    While I feel @Rickstockham's answer is a more specific and concise answer to my particular problem, I feel this answer covers more and is therefore going to be more applicable to a broader base of users, which is the purpose of StackExchange. With that caveat in mind, I'm accepting this answer.
    – Jerenda
    Jul 15, 2014 at 23:06

In a case like this I would recommend looking up town records and using an old residential address that has since been demolished. This might take a bit of work, but gives the accuracy that your client seems to be looking for. Otherwise, look up some addresses and pick a number in between. Only locals would know the problem, and it would be a Platform 9 3/4 problem to them.


I would use a fictional house number. You don't want to end up with the 221B Baker Street problem — so many people over the years thought Sherlock Holmes was real and tried to reach him that the genuine flat is now a Sherlock Holmes museum; nobody can live there. (The BBC had to film their series Sherlock on another street, because the actual Baker Street is covered in Holmes imagery.)

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