Must Everything Be Real?

Okay, so here's a question for you:  if you base your novel in a real city, must you stay true to everything?

I believe I know the answer is no as long as it's believable.  To me that's using creative licence, but I'd like to hear from you.  For example, if you had a murder at a Holiday Inn, I don't think you'd want to be saying it was the one in Toronto, on such and such a road.  Or if a murder happened in a house, you wouldn't want to give the number of an existing address.

But when it comes to locations such as restaurants and hotels, is it okay to stretch reality as long as it's feasible?

Currently, I'm editing my novel ELEVEN, and it's set in real locations with Salt Lick, Kentucky being one of them.  While there are two hotels there (most are cabin rentals), the one I was considering having my FBI team stay at doesn't have a restaurant.  I had wanted a restaurant in the hotel, but I also pictured more of a motel - single story with the parking lot in the middle.  I believe it's the type you can picture in a small rural town like that, and if so is that invention alright to use?  But if I go with the lodge that's there, I'd have to pick a restaurant.  And then, the question comes up, do I really what to "advertise" all these businesses?

What about you?  How would you handle it?  I want to stay as true as possible to the location, but is it alright to compromise, as in my case have a hotel like the one that's there (no on-site restaurant), but assign it a different name, for example?  Would something like this be better than inventing a complete new motel with an on-site restaurant?

What are your thoughts?  If you pick a real location, must everything be real, or just believable?


  1. I'm dealing with the same issue in my new WIP. I think in some instances - the ones you've mentioned - you have to change the location.

    There are people out there who will read your story and pick it apart you stray from reality, even a bit. Humans are funny creatures. I think this is more likely to happen if you write about large, iconic cities (NYC, SF, etc.).

    As a reader, as long as the main/big details are correct, I don't care and probably won't notice if you change the name of the motel on Highway Whatever and add a restaurant (or place a motel where it doesn't exist). If I like your story, even if it is set in my home town (especially if it is set in my home town), I will go along for the ride.

  2. Well, in my first book set in NYC, when it came to restaurants, I used actual locations. And not only restaurants, but a bowling alley, bagel shops and so on. Now, I have never been inside any of these places, though some had pics on the web. Mostly I just envisioned what they might be like inside and wrote the scene. I got somewhat lucky in my current work. I picked a pizza place for my MC to meet someone. Turned out that my technical advisor used to eat there a lot, as it was only a block from his Precinct. He even gave me details on his old Precinct, which can only add to the reality. (Sorry so long, Carolynn.)

  3. I'd just create a new place, but it's really up to you the writer,

  4. Thank you all for your comments. :)

    As I love to stick as close to real life as possible, I'm likely going to go with businesses similar to the ones found in these locations, but give them different names. At least that's where it stands right now.

    And Sheilagh, that's what I did with my Madison Knight series. The books are set in Stiles which could pretty much be Anytown, USA.


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