Guest blogger of Writing a Fictional Town, Ursula Nicol, is a University of the Sunshine Coast student. She's completing a Bachelor of Creative Industries, majoring in Publishing & Creative Writing. Ursula undertook a 208-hour internship with Gail Tagarro in 2021
We all know how exotic Brazil is; we know the party is in New York; we know that spring romance is found in Paris. But how about creating our own world? Writing a fictional town demands imaginative details.
This world is your oyster. You get to decide what exists and what doesn’t. The laws of your world are up for grabs. Is the size of everything warped? Have sharks evolved and become land animals to take over the human race? Are tomatoes illegal, or do they harness some awesome power?
Your fictional town can be just like your nostalgic hometown, or you can make it as peculiar and marvellous and terrifying or bleak as you want. How fantastical or how normal things are is up to you.
Let the Town Serve Your Novel
The fictional town is crucial to the make-believe world of a story, complementing the characters, events and elements of fantasy you create. Grab the opportunity for detail and authenticity in your novel.
As your characters live out their story, your audience will perceive the entirety of your world from the information you give them. This is where details of the setting come alive. How is your town’s layout affected by its inhabitants? Describe the architecture, businesses, services and schools. Think of Harry Potter, where J.K. Rowling incorporates the fantastical and the mortal worlds. We see the impact of magic in that world’s vocabulary and store names, the bank, transportation and sports.
Writing a fictional town can serve your novel by giving a twist to the ordinary, making the life of your town a reality for your audience through the way you describe it.
What makes all these enticing attributes believable is consistency and solid details.
The building blocks of your town affect your characters and their ‘why’. The name of a town or city may be symbolic of its residents or foreshadow your story. The Vampire Diaries ‘Mystic Falls’ reflects its supernatural characters and events.
For an effective twist, you can use obvious names if the town’s behaviour, demographics, landscape or climate is opposite to its name. The Good Place is a prime example of this.
The setting needs to serve your story and its characters to move the story forward, defining the issues in your world, its treasures or hidden gems. Think of District 13 in The Hunger Games, where its environmental ruin conveys class and governmental oppression. In contrast, The Capitol is a utopia. After defining your town’s scenery, setting and attributes, add some local pizazz. How does your town function? What is the hierarchy, and how is it governed? Is it a dystopia or a utopia?
Your fictional town must have a history. Did a higher being create the town? Does your town have an industry? What brought people to live there? Are there famous legends that govern the town? Secret tragedies? Is there an extraordinary place or event that evokes a wonderful phenomenon? Perhaps a haunted cave by the waterfall? What are the fascinating elements that will create suspense and make your story worth reading about? Consider how these elements will influence your characters and story plot.
What are the problems your town struggles with? Is the government or police force corrupt? Are there any natural disasters? Are there any social issues within the community? For consistency and relevance, these problems need to contribute to your story’s conflict, and they are an effective way to connect with universal problems that an audience can relate to.
Having a ‘why’ for the details in your story is essential to making them believable. Like any building, a fictional town needs solid foundations.
Chapman, H., 2021. Fictional Settings vs. Real Settings: Which Are Best? | Novel Writing Help. [online] Novel Writing Help. Available at: <https://www.novel-writing-help.com/fictional-settings.html> [Accessed 13 April 2021].
Eubanks, J., 2021. World Building: How to Create a Fictional Small Town in 10 Steps | Jacquelyn Eubanks. [online] Jacquelyneubanks.com. Available at: <https://www.jacquelyneubanks.com/small-town-world-building/> [Accessed 13 April 2021].
Any comments to make about Writing a Fictional Town? Feel free to have your say below.
The Australian Editing Handbook, Third Edition, 2014, by Elizabeth Flann, Beryl Hill and Lan Wang. Wiley, Qld.