Erica Vetsch is a transplanted Kansan now residing in Minnesota. She loves history and romance, and is blessed to be able to combine the two by writing historical romances. Whenever she’s not immersed in fictional worlds, she’s the company bookkeeper for the family lumber business, mother of two, wife to a man who is her total opposite and soul-mate, and avid museum patron.
Settings: Real and Imagined
by Erica Vetsch
This month marks the release of my latest novel, The Cactus Creek Challenge, set in the fictional town of Cactus Creek, Texas. As readers have dived into this story, they’ve asked me “Is Cactus Creek a real town?”
Well, you won’t find it on a map or in a history book, but it is real in my mind. Readers have told me they can picture the town in their minds, and that makes me happy. I love to be transported to another time and place when I read, and I am encouraged to know that through my writing, I can do that for my readers.
I’ve also been asked the question: “It’s easier to make up your own town than use real places, isn’t it?”
The truth is, authors face challenges no matter which route they choose to go with a setting. So here are some of the pros and cons of real and imagined settings:
Real Settings – The Pros
- Readers can often form a quick picture of the place. New York, Chicago, Miami. We all have mental images of those settings and can fill in some of the descriptive blanks. Skyscrapers, Lake Michigan, palm trees, etc.
- Photographs and maps exist that show us, especially writers of historicals, the lay of the land.
- Marketing ideas can be based upon a real setting. Sourdough or Ghirardelli from San Francisco, Quilted table-runners from Lancaster County, a teacup and Tetley’s from London.
Real Settings – The Cons
- Meticulous research. Readers from the location of your book will know if you have Elm Street cross Spruce Street and those two actually run parallel and never cross.
- Finding resources from the appropriate time. When I set a book in Gilded Age New York, I had a challenge finding photographs and maps of a particular corner of Central Park that I needed for the book. Eventually, I stumbled across a great map, but I had to dig.
- Not much wiggle room. If you choose a specific time and a real place, you are bound by the constraints of that time and place. If your story needs an event to occur, and the building you need it to occur in hasn’t been built by the time of your story setting, you have to have a re-think.
Imaginary Settings – The Pros
- You are in charge. If you want a building, business, or abode to be on a certain street, put it there! If you want to set your story in another universe, go for it.
- You can find an existing town in the area that you want to place your setting and just change the name. Think of Craig Johnson’s Longmire series. The stories are set in the fictional town of Durant, WY, but are all based upon the town of Buffalo, WY.
- Nobody can say you did it wrong. As long as you stay true to the time setting –don’t put a Ferrari on Front Street during the cattle drive era in Dodge City—you can do pretty much what you want.
Imaginary Setting – The Cons
- It can be difficult to maintain consistency. I draw maps and label streets and find photographs of buildings I like, so I can make a mental and physical map of a fictional setting.
- There are no natural ‘handles’ a reader can grab onto to fix the setting in their mind. “Somewhere in North Texas” isn’t the same as a real place that readers have been to and can return to.
- Readers of Christian Historical Fiction like to read about real places and events. They like to learn as well as be entertained. Using a fictional setting takes away some of that learning experience.
An author weighs up these pros and cons, filters everything through the needs of the story, and decides whether real or imagined is best for their setting. For The Cactus Creek Challenge, I opted for a fictional setting because there was no historical town at that time located where I needed it to be in proximity to the Palo Duro Canyon…and the alliteration of the Cs in the title is catchy. 🙂
Does the fact that a story is set in a fictional place vs. a historical place make a difference to you when choosing a book?
Anything he can do, I can do better. At least that was what Cassie Bucknell thought before she pinned on Ben Wilder’s badge and took to patrolling the streets of Cactus Creek, Texas. Cassie has been in love with Ben since primer school, but Ben treats her like a little sister. When they are picked to swap jobs for a month as part of the annual Cactus Creek Challenge in their Texas hometown, the schoolhouse is thrown into an uproar, the jail becomes a temporary bank vault, and Cassie and Ben square off in a battle of wills that becomes a battle for their hearts.
Thanks for joining us, Erica. I can’t wait to get my hands on this book. 🙂