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Suppose my story takes place in a town called Williams. It's never stated, though, whether Williams is a town in the USA, or in England, or wherever. It's just mentioned that it's a fictional place.

Are my readers likely to find this annoying? Or will they be okay as long as the story's engaging enough?

Keep in mind, though. My character starts out in Williams, and then ends up in a fantasy fairy-land of sorts, where the bulk of the story will be carried out. Given that Williams will have only a very little 'screen-time', should I put effort into this research or not?

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    Hmm, good point. But regardless, I just want to know whether readers are going to be okay with it never being clearly stated. – Jack Rabbit Apr 28 '17 at 8:43
  • Understandable. I elaborated my point in an answer below. – storbror Apr 28 '17 at 8:52
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    I don't imagine the fact of where it is will bother people, the artifice of never telling might though. I imagine that people will make assumptions, if you write in American-English people are less likely to assume it is in England. 'Williams' might be a very English surname, but it doesn't sound like an English place-name. Any detail you give about what people eat, how they travel, what the climate, flora and fauna is like etc will all give clues, so the more you want to keep it fuzzy, the less detail you can afford to give. – Spagirl Apr 28 '17 at 14:48
  • They'll know. If you spell color with a u. – Erin Thursby Apr 29 '17 at 8:15
  • I remind you that "The Simpsons" animated T.V. show is set in "Springfield," the most common town name in the USA. Awhile back, there was a publicity event to select which particular Springfield. The winner was not in the state that I would have guessed. And, I do not recall anyone complaining about the ambiguity. For that matter, where is "Lake Woebegone." – user23046 May 1 '17 at 23:29
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Is it important?

  • The Simpsons takes place in "Springfield" (of which there are apparently many in the US) and they purposely don't say which one it is, if it is any real one.

  • The story of "Narnia" could take place almost anywhere (the 'real world part') and still work.

If the name of the town is important to you, use it. However, many stories take place in seemingly real places that doesn't need to be explained or proven "real" or "fictional".

Does the audience care?

I believe your audience wouldn't ask questions about the existence the town called "Williams" unless you give them a reason.

These are just two (very different) examples, but my point is that locations in stories only matter as much as you make them matter.

We (the audience) need to understand the place(s) the story takes place in. Some stories use famous landmarks etc. to play with our relation to said place(s), but in general it simply works as a location for the story to realistically take place in.

Counter-question: Do you have to mention that "it's a fictional place"?

I personally would not mention that it is a fictional place, and rather focus on making the town "Williams" come alive, fictional or not.

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    Sorry, I hadn't noticed that you already detected "The Simpsons" when I made a comment, above. – user23046 May 3 '17 at 1:49
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Yes, it's fine. The audience only needs as much information as is significant to the story, and no more. Anymore is a distraction.

In your case, the audience probably needs to know enough to build this character for when they go on their fantasy journey. A character from 1920s New York will act and react much different than one from a small Midwestern town in 2017. In this case, the setting is building the character.

OTOH, if you were doing a careful historical period piece, then you'd want to define your locations clearly and accurately. That's a significant part of the story.

When I read your question, I immediately thought about Miyazaki. Some of his most famous and beautiful films are in an unspecified place and time. Think of My Neighbor Totoro: I don't believe the name of the city they move from, nor the town they move to is ever said. It's enough to know they went from a city to the country. The time period is not even clear. This lack of specificity allows Miyazaki great freedom in crafting an idealized, yet believable, country life.

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