6

There is a novel by a well-known author the title of which is a place name. The place is fictional and appears in the novel, although there are real places in the real world with the same name, but these places are small and not well known. Anyone who reads that genre will think of that novel first, if they hear that place name. The name is descriptive, like Broken Rock or Black River.

I'm writing a novel in the same genre in which there is a similar place, and I would love to call it the same (because of the symbolism). Key events take place at that location, and the name of the place will be said by the characters rather often throughout the book.

What will readers think of that?

Will it throw them out the story to be constantly reminded of that other book? Will they perceive it as a rip-off or an hommage? Should I avoid it?

  • Just BTW: I don't think it's necessary to be secretive about the book that you're referring to. You're allowed to mention titles of books that you want to use for comparison. – Jay Oct 6 '16 at 14:12
8

I've read 2 different series of books, both that have a place named "Winterfell" that is central to the plot, but whilst reading the second series I no longer thought about the place in the first series after around 15 minutes. Readers will have different things called to mind depending on the context, and it will be unlikely that they are reminded of the previous location after a while.

However, even though there are over 30 locations in the US called Manchester alone, as well as further places with the same name in other countries, no matter how much I hear it my mind will always first jump to the place I grew up in the UK, because that's what I immediately think of when I hear the name.

So I think it really depends on whether the reader has enough attachment to something with the name already, but this could happen with names of anything. If a reader's sister is named Sarah, and the main character of the story has the same name, it may be very difficult to disassociate the character from their sister even if they are entirely different. There is absolutely no way a writer can accommodate for this.

But if, as you say, it's highly likely that your audience would have read a book not only with the same place name but having it as the title of that book, it may be better to err on the side of caution. After all, if you knew a large portion of your readers had a sister named Sarah, you'd probably give your main character a different name.

But generally, place names like the examples given in your question are named after something in the area that represents that place. But that means the founder could have named it slightly differently depending on how they saw it, but it would not have to be too dissimilar.

So rather than having the name Broken Rock it may have been named Rockfall, or Black River could be something as simple as Dark River. This could help with being very similar thematically, whilst also not being associated with a place the reader may already know of.

2

Ten years ago, if I ran into the name Winterfell in two different books, I would think it was a coincidence. Now that Game of Thrones has exploded everywhere, if something new came out and used the name Winterfell, I would think it is a rip-off. I think you need to be careful about how popular the other book is. If it is as well known as you say, you might want to try emailing the publisher/author and see if they had an issue with you using the same name. Also, while titles aren't copyrighted, some authors may have separate trademarks on various things connected with their work. That's a complicated arena and I'm not an expert, but if the book's title is part of merchandise, you might be in deep water.

I like @Mike.C.Ford's suggestion about having a similar name that also describes the location and is reminiscent of the other book, but still different. Make it your own.

2

In general, I'd say that clear references to another work of fiction are a bad idea. It makes it sound like you're writing fan fiction rather than an original work.

You can refer to particularly well-known works of fiction AS FICTION. Like if in your mystery novel the detective says, "Hey, I'm no Sherlock Holmes", well, that's the sort of literary reference that a real person might make. But if in your story of 21st century soldiers fighting terrorists you say that the terrorists attacked Narnia, that's just going to be very disconcerting to the reader.

Even if you keep such references within the genre, like if in your fantasy novel you mention a character having come from Narnia, it's likely to be distracting. As a reader, I'd immediately be thinking, "Wait, is this story supposed to be tied to the Narnia stories?" And frankly, I always start out with a bad opinion of someone who tries to piggyback on another writer's success. Just because JK Rowling wrote some very good books about magic at a place called Hogwarts doesn't mean that setting your book at a place called Hogwarts will make it any good.

As with almost any rule of writing, you can break the rules if you do it well. But you should really avoid gimmicks. If you're thinking, "I'll use this other writer's place name because then readers will remember that other book and I can get all the associations that go with the place for free" ... no, you won't. You're just being lazy and I think most readers will know it and look down on you for it.

1

I would approach with caution, especially if the referenced place is from a recent or currently active book/series. A little goes a long way

But if I were writing a cosmic horror series set in the American Northeast (or New England, as I guess those folks call it :P, I FOR SURE would have characters who graduated from Miskatonic U., drove past Arkham, and once visited Derry :)

Judicious use of references from associated works can really bring a universe to life, but only as background color, in my opinion. I would never write a story that had a character specifically reference a killer clown from Derry or those weird fishermen in Innsmouth unless I was specifically working WITHIN THAT WORLD.

By the same token, I would never write an urban fantasy series that references Hogwarts. That association is too strong and well known, I think (plus Rowling's lawyers would probably come calling pretty quickly). But a sly reference to Chicago's magical protector might be ok.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy