I have been working on a script for a television company who accepts scripts from new writers and members of the public, and the setting is fictional, but in a real-world location.

The issues of it being a fictional town where rearranging geography etc. may not quite come into play here as it's being filmed in real-life locations so there's that to take into account.

I already have the plotline and genre; it's a gritty, realistic crime drama, but not a procedural.

https://writing.stackexchange.com/a/45393/56076 says:

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.

However, my issue is how to deal with fictional town geography while working within real-life limitations of the setting, if it was to ever get made.

Obviously you can't change real-life geography if you're filming in the real world, unless it's a film set, and that's not likely.

So far, I've been looking at New England or Midwestern towns for the setting of this drama.

It's not grand in scope - no fantasy, no multiverses- grounded in reality and is a stand-alone work.

This is obviously a different medium than writing or comic-books etc. and I haven't really thought of this for a TV medium.

What do I need to take into account for the medium of TV/movies as a setting, live-action, that is?

4 Answers 4


If I understand correctly, your story is set (and filmed) in the real world, but not in a specific location. That is, it takes place in a New England town, but not in, say, Plymouth, New Hampshire, specifically.

This limits you in that your town must look like a New England town. The architecture and infrastructure must be typical of that region.

But you are free to combine those typical elements however you want. You can have a harbor or not. You can have three or five churches. The school can be behind the town hall or next to the park. There can be a mountain or a lake or a river or a Walmart – or not.

The filming will then take place in different towns, but the shots will be cut in a way to make it appear as if it was all in the same place. You don't have to worry about that.

I hope I understood your question correctly. If not, please comment (and possibly edit your question to make it clearer).


Actually you can change real world geography and movies do it all the time. Many movies and TV shows film in the small towns around me. They do a handful of scenes in front of one building, then another handful in a park, then head off to another town to do the rest. The other day the arena across from the school was full of trucks. There was a sign that said "Isaac & Lily, crew entrance" and when I looked it up that's Star Trek: Strange New Worlds. I guess a skating rink with the ice out is going to be representing something in space. Decades ago, a scene in a major movie was filmed in one of my university buildings. In the movie, people ran down a hallway, burst out of a GORGEOUS doorway, jumped into a waiting vehicle (ambulance I think) and then drove off down a long wonderful "country manor" driveway. The doorway (and only the doorway) was on my campus. The vehicle was parked (facing a wall, it could not have driven off) and the actors burst out of the door and ran past the back of the vehicle. They didn't even open the doors! It took all day. I guess some other day they did the "getting in the vehicle and driving off" part of the scene, and some other day still they ran down a hallway in yet another place.

A location scout will find a dock, a beach, a lake to film from above, and the streetscapes and houses that are needed for your scenes. They might be in ten different towns, but that's not your problem. Someone will have to put signs that say "Morgan's Hotel" on the vape store, or First Bank of OurTown on the cheque cashing place in the grand building that was probably a bank 50 years ago. Also not your problem. Write the scenery you need: others will find or make it.


On the contrary, you can change real-life geography in order to set your drama in real town.

You can invent streets, and addresses, and housing neighborhoods or subdivisions. Say your fictional family lives in the "Summer Fields" subdivision, near the hospital. Just make sure there is no "Summer Fields" subdivision in the town.

(Honestly, if you invented a subdivision in my city, approximately nobody in my city would know it was fictional; there are approximately hundreds of them here.)

On real streets, you can invent intersections that don't exist. You can invent addresses on real streets that don't exist. Maybe there is no "10,000" block of Main street, but there is a "9000" block, right before Main Street ends at the freeway.

Invent fictional business names on "Main street" but be vague about the address. For example, "It's on Main, I forget the address, but it is a little shop a few blocks from the courthouse right after the Honda dealership." (There is no Honda dealership on Main street.)

You can also make up an address that doesn't exist on Main Street. Or invent a side street that connects to Main Street, but does not exist.

It doesn't matter if a few readers in your actual town recognize that is fiction, the vast majority of your readers will not.

Stephen King does this all the time in his stories, he invents towns, and invents streets in real towns.

It is actually better to invent towns, and mayors and other citizens, if you can. Your biggest problem to worry about, using a real location at a real time, is defamation (specifically libel, a published defamation). Somebody can claim your fictional character is actually them and you are libeling them by claiming they are unfaithful, or are corrupt, or are a criminal.

(And no, A disclaimer in the story that all characters are fictional and do not represent any real person alive or dead does not carry any weight at all if somebody decided to sue you anyway -- after all, the disclaimer might be a lie.)

But yes, you can fictionalize elements within a real town. For example in fictional police procedurals set in New York City, the police precincts and addresses they are called to are virtually always made up.

Or, like in the series Elementary, there is actually a 27th precinct in New York City, but it is in Harlem, and in the TV show, it is set in Manhattan. So there is no 27th precinct in Manhattan; it is fictional in that sense.


Movies and tv shows often mix more or less real places with more or less imaginary places.

For example, in The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) there are errors in the geography of Washington, DC.

When Helen and Klaatu are going to the professor's, the army states that their cab is heading northwest on Connecticut at Columbia Rd. The cab then passes under the Dupont Circle underpass on Connecticut AV. The underpass is south of Columbia Rd, not north. Also, if the professor lives near the State Department, they are going in the wrong direction. The State Department offices are south of Columbia Rd.

The fat man running crying, "They landed in the Mall," is wrong. The Mall is a long relatively narrow strip of land stretching from the Capitol Building and the Washington Monument. Yet Klaatu sets his saucer down in a square field with the South Face of the White House clearly visible at the edge of frame which means it is The Ellipse in President's Park. Furthermore, there are three baseball diamonds present: there are no baseball diamonds at the Mall. location.


I remember an episode of the Six Million Dollar Man where someone stole the Liberty Bell. Immediately after the theft the robbers are escaping in a vehicle along a dirt road. If you take a look at the Independence Mall and Independence Hall in Center City Philadelphia in Google Maps you will notice a great lack of dirt roads within miles. Later, the robbers allegedly have a hideout in the mountains to the southeast. Mountains which don't exist southeast of Philadelphia.

Speaking of Philadelphia, there is a great tv movie called Welcome Home, Johnny Bristol, 1972. A Vietam vet recovering from his psychological trauma searches for his childhood home town. I won't reveal the plot, but the last scene happens at an address which does not exist in real life - I've checked.

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