Sometimes authors invent regions, which are very similar to real ones, e.g.

I understand the benefit of using an existing region as a scene for fiction because you know it well, and you can describe it in little details, which makes the reader feel that you know the place intimately.

But what's the benefit of inventing a fictional region, which is based on a real one? Why not use the real one in the novel?

I'm asking because I'm writing a story, which plays in a region I grew up in. I need to decide, whether I should use a fake city based on that real city, or use the real one in the story.

Benefits of inventing a new city:

  • Easier pronunciation. The real city is in German-speaking part of Europe. My target audience is English-speaking and is likely to break their tongues, if I use real location names in my story. In a fictional city I can name the places so that English-speaking readers can remember them more easily.
  • Adaptability of the world. I can bend the history of the fake city so that it suits the needs of my story in the best possible way (even if in reality the history was different).
  • No stereotypes. If I say that the story plays in Moscow (strongly stereotyped place), the reader will have ideas about the characters and the settings, incl. those I don't want her to have. If I have a fake city based on Moscow, it's me, who decides, which ideas come to her mind based on the geography of the story.

Any other benefits?

  • 2
    When you would like to answer your own question, you should post that part as an answer and not put the answer in the question.
    – Philipp
    Aug 12, 2016 at 11:56
  • 4
    Isn't it a good practice to include a description of my attempts to answer a question? I have the impression that on StackOverflow people like it, when the topic starter explains what he tried to solve the problem he is asking about (and what didn't help).
    – user6696
    Aug 12, 2016 at 12:08
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    @DmitriPisarenko As a relative newcomer to the stack exchange network as a whole, I feel that this varies between the exchanges. In particular, in StackOverflow, the questions are technical, so Information about problem=> Diagnosis of an Issue => Solution to that issue (e.g. "My mouse doesn't work" => Mouse isn't plugged in/Mouse drivers are missing => Plug in mouse/Download and install drivers). Here in the writers stack exchange, things will generally be more experience based, simply because of the topic (so one's own attempts are less important, as there is less of a "diagnosis" step)
    – sharur
    Aug 13, 2016 at 0:10

5 Answers 5


I think the most important reason may be that it is one small step into faery. There is always something of faery about every story. Stories take place in a neater, stronger, brighter world than our own, a world in which coincidences are more likely and more meaningful than in the real world, in which people are more definitely and consistently who they are, in which the weather and the seasons reflect the moods of the inhabitants. It is a world of symbol and a world of consequence. It is more real, more gritty, more permanent, and yet also smaller and more ephemeral than our own.

So, stories are not really set in real places, but in the faery equivalent of real places. Some places, like New York or Rome exist more in our minds as their faery equivalents than as their real noisy crowded selves, so you can set a story in faery New York or faery Rome without changing the names.

But for other places, and perhaps this is more for the author's sake than the reader's, it is necessary to create the faery equivalent of those places under a new name so that the faery place can have a clearly established character that differs from the real in all the ways that story places differ from real places.

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    "I think the most important reason may be that it is one small step into faery." I wish I'd thought of that point - although even if I had, I would not have expressed it so poetically. Aug 12, 2016 at 12:54

It looks to me as if you have already answered your own question very well. All I can think of to add is:

  • it saves you from having to do a lot of detailed research into the geography and history of that region. Some people love to nitpick when authors get factual details wrong; with a fictional region as your setting you can shrug these complaints off.

  • setting your story in a fictional region minimizes the danger that you will be sued for libel if, for instance, your story includes a scene in which the poshest restaurant in the city of X gives all its diners food poisoning. (But people should note that in most jurisdictions a libel case can be sustained if the restaurant in the story is recognizable to the average reader as referring to a real restaurant.)

  • 1
    That's why many movies include a phrase like "The story, all names, characters, and incidents portrayed in this production are fictitious. No identification with actual persons, places, buildings, and products is intended or should be inferred." It's all too easy to imply a real X that happens to be protected by law (and expensive lawyers).
    – phyrfox
    Aug 12, 2016 at 17:05
  • You can tweak the geographic details of the place to fit your story. If I were writing about my fair city, Pittsburgh, but lakes would suit my story better than rivers, I can change them. Maybe in my fictionalized city it's better to put the brothel next to the bank. I can remove the vacant building across from my character's office window and add a cliff for his foes to fall off of.
  • 1
    That is certainly true, but I think Dmitri Pisarenko had already covered it under "adaptability of the world". I did like your examples though. Aug 12, 2016 at 12:56
  • Yes, he mentions modifying the city's history. I'm less deep than that, and usually just want to shove the geography around. It's an obvious answer, a sub-bullet to his, but there it is. Aug 12, 2016 at 13:00

To me, a fictional city, country or other kind of location, embodies the essence of what it stands for.

Gotham City in the Batman comics is New York City stripped of its tourists, commuters, family life, and all the other normal things that exist elsewhere, too, leaving only the metropolitan politics, the gangs and crime, the brutality of that moloch. Depending on your own views of New York City, Gotham City represents either the understanding or prejudice of its authors.

A fictional place allows the author to express a stereotype or deeper truth. It is like cooking tomatoes until you get tomato paste.


I think the main advantage of using a fictional place is what you perhaps allude to in your comment about "adaptability". With a fictional place, you can invent whatever you want that helps your story.

I've occasionally heard people really nit-pick details of a story set in a real location. Like, "What?? The author says that the hero ran out of an Italian restaurant and into a newspaper office next door. Now here I have carefully compiled a list of every Italian restaurant in that city and every newspaper office, and there is no case where the two are side by side."

Of course by definition a fiction story is not true. The rational reader expects details to be altered to fit the story. At the very least, people will be invented who never lived in this city, indeed who never lived anywhere. Fictional details will be invented. For most readers, if you say the hero lived at 137 Broad Street in a 3-bedroom house with a green door, etc, they're not going to rush to Broad Street to see if such a house really exists and really fits the description in your story. But if you set the story in New York City and mention the hero driving past the Eiffel Tower, most readers will balk. We expect the big details to be right. Thus, the writer may often find himself wondering whether some detail that he wants to put in the story is "big enough" that he has to make it match reality, or not. With a fictional place, this issue goes away. You have to be consistent with what you said earlier, but you don't have to be consistent with reality because there is no reality.

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