2

So, I'm nearing the conclusion of a novel, and I just realized that 70,000 words in, I've never told the readers where the characters live. Now, this is may seem like a rather trivial detail, and if after developing the story for so long and never mentioning it, it probably bears no consequence for the readers, because the story probably can take place anywhere, but that isn't the case. Right now, the characters are trying to locate a person from their hometown, while they're in Hawaii. But, this person is using an alias, so by way of description, I say this to show that the characters have no doubt that this is the person they are trying to find:

Ms. Lawrence finally gets a current location for a Craig Melbourne – apparently, Dr. Greg was working under an alias – who frequents a Family Psychiatry in __________, Pennsylvania – the practice Mrs. Mayes and the Parkersons confirmed they’d brought their kids to.

I want to put the name of a city there. I was going to put Lakewood Pennsylvania, but being this far into the novel, I don't want to have to go back and change any details that may not fit for a story taking place in Lakewood. If I've already established that the town the characters live in is three hours away from a camp in northern New York, would it be correct for me to make up a generic town name?

7

The answer will depend on the size of the town. Even locals will not know the names of all villages around them, but beyond a certain size, everyone familiar with the area – and in Pennsylvania that's quite a few – will notice that the town does not exist. I would be irritated by that, if I had read the greater part of a novel imagining it taking place in some specific real city. I think that fictional towns need to be introduced and cannot just appear half way into the story.

I would either use Lakewood and make the corrections necessary, or avoid any reference to any specific place. I don't see why you cannot write something like:

Ms. Lawrence finally gets a current location for a Craig Melbourne – apparently, Dr. Greg was working under an alias – who frequents a Family Psychiatry close to Greg's last address – the practice Mrs. Mayes and the Parkersons confirmed they’d brought their kids to.

There are also many movies and novels where the characters say something like: "... some town in Pennsylvania ...", when they aren't themselves familiar with the place, and when another character asks for the name, the author writes: "John told Bob the town's name, and Bob got into the car to pick up Sarah."

1

If I were you, I would not worry at all about any discrepancy between your fictional Lakewood and the real place. Remember Joseph Heller's disclaimer at the very start of his novel Catch-22:

The island of Pianosa lies in the Mediterranean Sea eight miles south of Elba. It is very small and obviously could not accommodate all of the actions described. Like the setting of this novel, the characters, too, are fictitious

Your Answer

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

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.