What I’m doing is making a story in the medieval times and I wanted to make up a village and have my characters be there and travel around there but do I have to make everything around there in the book like how it was in real life? For example if my character where to travel south, in real life he would reach Berwick castle but in the book I don’t want anything to be there. It’s important to me that it’s set in the real world because the second book is supposed to be in Wisconsin so I don’t want to switch from not real to real. (Sorry if I’m confusing)

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    What kind of story is this? Historical, alternate history, historical fantasy, etc? – Arcanist Lupus Jun 13 at 6:32
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    Yes, like Wakanda in Marvel is made up. Still about real world. – Joshua Rajandiran Jun 13 at 7:55
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    I think the only way you can go wrong is to use a real place and then get it wrong; don't let readers think you don't know the geography. If your characters go from Kings Cross to Hogwarts by train then many of your readers will place Hogwarts in the north; don't then disorient them by telling them that Hogwarts is on the south coast. – Michael Kay Jun 13 at 9:54
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    @JoshuaRajandiran Well... it does on Earth-199999. We live on Earth-1218. – Belle-Sophie Jun 13 at 12:17
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    Stephen King has made up entire towns as settings for his stories in Maine that don’t actually exist. I think this is also similar to what you are thinking. – wgrenard Jun 15 at 7:32

Jane Austen routinely did what it sounds like you want to do: she kept the big places intact (London, Bath), but the estates mentioned in her stories (e.g. Pemberly) are fictional, with only their general location given. The estate was fictional, but culturally it was set in its time, in England, which is all that she needed. Similarly, you can invent a village, and not bother too much with precise distances and where exactly it should be on the map. Pemberly could have existed, so could your village. In fact, I believe this was a common way of writing at the time.

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    I was going to use James Herriot as an example his stories are littered with real places and fictional places, but it is def. set in real yorkshire. – WendyG Jun 13 at 10:57
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    Add Thomas Hardy to the list - he invented an entire fictional region of England, Wessex. The entire Marvel comics universe works this way - New York City is really New York City, Hell's Kitchen is a real neighborhood, Westchester & Queens are real counties. But good luck finding Xavier's mansion or the boyhood homes of Peter Parker or Matt Murdock. – MandisaW Jun 13 at 15:13
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    I think this is still a common way of writing. – Clearer Jun 14 at 10:28
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    @MandisaW I feel it's worth making the point clear that Wessex did exist, but Tom Hardy's version of Wessex has significant changes in order to fit his story. – SGR Jun 15 at 9:17
  • @SGR As I understood it, Hardy popularized use of the term as applied to the region. Not sure if ppl in the region referred to it that way though. Clearly, they do now. And yes, Hardy plays loosely with local geography to serve the narrative, which is fine IMO. – MandisaW Jun 16 at 15:07

The location serves the story, not the other way around.

If you need to alter geography a little bit, that's fine. It's called artistic license, and everyone does it.

The danger is that changing the real world risks throwing readers out of the story if they are familiar enough with the area to recognize the changes. They'll get distracted by the details, and you don't want that.

You can reduce this problem by obfuscating the details. It's fine if you know the exact spatial coordinates of your town. But if all the readers know is that the town is "somewhere in Europe by a river" then they won't know that there should be a castle there.

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    On the other hand, for the authors taking this to heart, please have a bit more specific location in mind than just "somewhere in Europe by a river", which could be pretty much anywhere from southern Spain to the northern parts of Scandinavia. There are likely to be major differences between those which will impact the story you're telling, and people will notice if you get this badly enough wrong even if you don't ever name the specific location at all. (Yes, I realize you're just using it as an example. Yes, it hits somewhat close to home.) – Michael Kjörling Jun 13 at 10:47
  • Agreed regarding the danger of throwing your reader. I read a novel once by an author who was a personal acquaintance of mine. It was set in the midwestern university town, in which we both lived. She used much of the geography, but what was jarring (to me) was where she juxtaposed locations. Wouldn't've been an issue for someone unfamiliar with the area, but it was for me. It would've been better (for me) if the location was fictional or if the rest of her geography wasn't so precisely mapped to the real world (i.e., setting a rural scene where my apartment building was). – Doug R. Jun 14 at 14:21

I think that at this point you must consider the importance of the location to the plot or the message you want your readers to get. For example, Dostoevsky, in Crime and Punishment, omits street names by just giving their first letters (interesting reddit discussion in here). While some speculate he did it for censorship reasons, I viewed it at the time as a tool enforcing the reader to be more focused on the story. Hence, by omitting real locations, the reader will not be attempted to memorize street names because they are not crucial to the story. From fear that some people may debate me on this with regard to "Crime and Punishment", I will just conclude with the following:

I do not see real locations as important in stories. As long as the setting is consistent (i.e. you do not jump from place to place uselessly), I think you should be fine. When you say

It’s important to me that it’s set in the real world because the second book is supposed to be in Wisconsin so I don’t want to switch from not real to real.

I think the best advice is just to not care about locations and focus more on character development in this part of the plot.

Another example of not real to real stories is in the Agota Kristof's trilogy: "The trilogy of the twins" (The notebook trilogy). If I remember correctly, the first book does not give you any indication about what the real location or time are. Next, it becomes more clear and uses more "real" descriptions. This comes up as the location and time become more crucial to the story-telling.

I think that would be fine to do! If you take Cassandra Clare's The Mortal Instruments, for example, most of the series is set within New York. However, she made up the country of Idris for the home country of her made up race of Shadowhunters.

It's your story, you can set it in any type of world you would like!

A quick google search for Bernice castle came up with a bunch of females with last name of Castle. Searching for Bernice Stronghold also came up blank. So if google can't find that castle with all its modern powers, it is forgivable that your characters might miss it as well.

Just leave the exact name and location of your village obscure. Give your readers nothing to search on, and they will not be tempted to search for discrepancies like a missing castle.

So instead of referring to the village by it's name, call it "our village" or "our home". Refer to the next town over as "that small hamlet where cousin Mary lives". You can even have your character's give the neighboring town a disparaging nick-name and use that in place of its real name.

Also, humor can also be used to justify missing details. If the narrator sarcastically points out the idea that nobody ever mentions the name of this particular town, then everyone's efforts to avoid disclosing it can become a great point of humor. Think obscurity through absurdity.

  • I meant Berwick Castle but it auto corrected lol sorry – Angel Jun 13 at 6:17
  • Of course, Berwick is in the old kingdom of Bernicia. – Anton Sherwood Jun 13 at 21:34
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    There are many towns who have the same name, so one can certainly name the town without worries. Just look at Springfield: you can find Springfields in Ireland, Northern Ireland, Scotland and England. And if you look at North America, you'll find over 30 towns! – Sara Costa Jun 14 at 13:11

Do as much research into the place you want your fictional village to be as you can. Find out the topography, the climate, the surrounding large towns. Know something about the people of that time and region. At the very least it will grease your creative wheels and give you the ability to flesh out your fictional town with some degree of authenticity.

If you want to deviate from what is really there, for example you want Berwick Castle not to exist, then just make up a reason for it not to exist. Who built it? That guy just happened to die in childbirth. Easy enough. The main thing is just to make sure you know what is in your world in RL, and when you deviate, do so by choice, not by ignorance or apathy.

Depending on how much you want to deviate, there may be a lot of work involved. For example, if you want a huge stretch of wilderness for your story, in a location that in RL is quite thickly inhabited, you need a good reason for that. Maybe a plague? But if so, how did your town survive? A war? Then there would be ruins. A hostile force of some sort? Then the story needs to deal with that hostile presence.

Of course, you can choose to ignore all this and just arrange things however you like, and many readers wouldn't notice at all. But if you are writing a story that includes alternate historical elements, your target audience is likely to be knowledgeable in that area, and is much more likely to notice any mistakes.

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    Sometimes a writer will say in a foreword how the story's geography deviates. For example, Catch-22 is set on an island called Pianosa; a brief foreword notes that the real Pianosa, near Elba, is too small for the events of the story. Similarly The Fountains of Paradise needs an island on the equator, so the author moved the island on which he resided much of his life, and said so. – Anton Sherwood Jun 13 at 21:12

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