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I'm working on a post-apocalypse novel set all over the world. I'm fairly flexible on where some of the events take place, but there are often specific requirements on the look, layout, general region etc, and I like to use real places for authenticity.

For example, right now I'm looking for a major Eastern European railway station that can act as a crime lord's HQ. It needs to have a wide, multi-platform concourse overlooked by a second level balcony with shops and cafés, all under a high ceiling with lots of glass, and with at least one underground track for hidden entry. It feels like a plausible place to me, but so far I haven't found a real-world example that fits all the criteria, and I'm not even sure how to phrase the search.

Short of googling every station in Eastern Europe, is it really my best option to just pick one and claim artistic license on what's there? Or even invent a whole city? It seems lazy but I'll do it if there's no alternative.

Are there any resources I could try before I give in? Where do I ask whether anyone knows of such a place?

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    Welcome to Writers.SE! You seem to be asking a lot of questions, and I'm not sure which of them is your main question. This site isn't like a discussion forum; it works best when you narrow questions down to a single specific thing that you need help with. – F1Krazy Jun 6 at 15:38
  • Try formatting your post so the question you ask is more obvious and not lost in a blob of text. – JP Chapleau Jun 6 at 15:40
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    Welcome Ian. Please check out our tour and help center. My answer is more about the process of coming up with settings and not about actual resources for researching Eastern European train stations (yes, Google is your friend here) because that's not so much about writing. – Cyn Jun 6 at 16:05
  • Do you need just a train station, or other features of the city? – Alexander Jun 6 at 17:24
  • Thanks for the tips. New to the site, sorry. @Alexander It's only the station I need exact, but it has consequences, such as the undeground track means obviously the city must have them. I can probably work with whatever else the city throws at me, once I know which city it is. – Ian Coombes Jun 6 at 17:51
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I do the same thing. This is how I've handled it.

My novel is set in a variety of places and my aim is to use real places when feasible and realistic places when not.

By coincidence, I also have a need for a central European train station, though one less modern and different from yours. I had the station I needed in my head then looked for a real one to fit it.

My criteria:

  • In a city in Germany and present in 1939.
  • A transportation hub (reasonable for someone to use to travel internationally).
  • A lit walkway leading up to it.
  • A station that was a building (many train stations are just platforms open to the surrounding area) with areas to stand around outside it.
  • A real platform for saying goodbye.

It turns out that the Berlin Zoologischer Garten railway station meets all my needs. Mind you, I never name the station, though I do have this character hail from Berlin.

Did I need to find this station? Nope. All I needed in my research was to know that the station was possible. For example, maybe in the time period and location I needed, platforms looked very different. Then I'd alter things. But they don't.

For locations I use more extensively, I find it easier to make them up. The first 1/3 of my novel takes place in a small town in Northern Arizona. I chose to create the town instead of using an existing one, in large part because no existing town met my needs. My research helped me know that every element of my town was one that existed in the area and that it was completely plausible for my town to exist as written.

I talk about the town creation process at length in another answer, but here's an excerpt:

Because my town is fictional, I'm free to use whatever features I want that fit my story. For example, it's very important to the story that I have a lake that is a particular size and shape with a small beach and a dock. I could alter it some if needed but, one, I don't want to and, two, not by much. There is no town near a lake that fits my needs in the area (even if I expand the area quite a bit). But there are plenty of towns similar to what I have and plenty of lakes that are close to what I'm looking for. The town/lake I need is completely plausible, it just doesn't actually exist.

I also get to set up the school how I want, the neighborhoods, and the businesses/services that do and don't exist in town. Not to mention some important historical events that are, again, very plausible, they just didn't happen here.


The answer to your question is: Yes.

Yes do exhaustive research.

Yes take artistic license.

It's the combination of the two that will make your setting work perfectly within your story.

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Place it where you want. Give it the features you want. Make up the name. Don't say a real place is like what you want if it isn't.

I have used Google Maps and Street View to locate actual places. However, when I couldn't find a military base of the design I wanted in the location I needed, I made up one based on the features of another I have seen several times and gave it a fictional name.

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