Fictional Cool City Names, Plus a Tad of Reality
To make a story’s setting come alive, I like hearing about real places sprinkled into the fiction I read. While adding cool city names to your novel or screenplay may show off your creativity, embedding a bit of reality helps the reader connect.
In watching a movie, how fun is it to recognize a place that you’ve been? When I see films shot in Boston (like Ted, for instance) I get a small thrill seeing Mark Wahlberg walk down a street I’ve been on. (Then again, seeing Mark Wahlberg walk down anything can be exciting.)
My book Tim on Broadway opens with a conversation taking place off-book in Salem, Massachusetts. Tim’s talking to his best friend Julia at a Starbucks I frequented in downtown Salem—even the laundromat across the way factored into the conversation.
I knew the area well, so it wasn’t hard to visualize it and bring it life on the page. Sometimes it’s not so easy.
Bar Harbor, Maine and the area around Acadia National Park is my happy place in my mind. I’ve been there many times, but sometimes I need to jog the nogging. Also, while I lived in New York City for a time I forget some of the details.
In instances like these, it helps to get out Google Maps and zoom into the street-level view. You may or may not use the detail, but I guarantee a clear picture of a foreign location in your mind will help immensely—even if the exact location is irrelevant to your scene, you never know when it could factor in later.
For my work-in-progress titled Carolyn’s Turn: Making Witches of Salem, I’ve created a fictional island off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine. (This island appeared in Tim on Broadway too.) For the entire time I’ve been working on CT (and TOB), I referred to a map I sketched out long ago. I eventually put it into PowerPoint (below).
This map helped me “map” out scenes, know where characters were in relation to one another, and serve as a compass in a lot of ways. I doubt if it’ll make it into the book. I didn’t create it for the reader—just a tool to help my un-caffeinated head remember things. What do you think of it?
Building your world is half the fun of writing!
It’s so much easier today. Remember visiting the library and paging through books to find a good picture just to get inspiration? Or researching facts for hours on end just to make things right?
While the Internet has changed the writer’s research world for the better, tread carefully.
Check In with Others on Distant Places
While Google Maps and the Internet make it so much faster to write about locations far from us, it’s helpful to check in (pun intended; you’ll see why in a sec) with those who live (or have lived) in your setting.
My friend Debbie McGowan did just that with her book Checking In. (Okay, there’s the pun. I know…I could’ve come up with something more riveting.)
Debbie’s a fantastic writer and her attention to detail is excellent. Therefore, I wasn’t surprised when she tapped me on the shoulder for information about Boston when she started the Checking Him Out series. She’s from England. (And ya’ll know I hail from the Boston area.)
Debbie and I have worked together in the past. We’ve had countless email exchanges on minutia that never made it to print and in most cases was never intended to. But sometimes you need to go that deep.
For instance, in Checking In the location of certain hotels, drug stores, characters’ apartments, and office buildings in and around the Boston area are not always explicitly mentioned. But, I guarantee Debbie and I know exactly where they all are.
And when we worked on Marketing Beef we had a whole conversation about the reality of Evan McCormick’s net worth and the stocks he traded to get there. I even put together a spreadsheet of his fictitious Ogle Inc. stocks (uh hum, Google) and timed his home purchase with Boston’s real estate market.
Cool City Names in Fiction
Some cool city names I’ve come across?
Gotham is a good example. I can’t help feeling like I’m in New York City when I watch Batman-related films and television shows or checkout one of the comics.
Of course, science fiction and fantasy are chockablock full of fictional worlds. What would a Tolkien book (or film based on his works) be without world building? Star Wars too.
In my more contemporary fiction, I like to embed a smidgen of reality into cool city names, towns, and concepts.
On Evan and Dillon’s first date in Marketing Beef, they went to one of my favorite restaurants in Salem, Massachusetts called 62 Restaurant and Wine Bar. They ordered my favorite of 62’s appetizers, chickpea fritters. Yum! (Unfortunately, the real 62 has since closed. The owner—an unrelated Antonio Bettencourt—has opened a new eatery in its place. I’ll be sure to give it a whirl next time I’m in town.)
Evan Capri McCormick, the protagonist in MB, lives in Conant, Massachusetts, which is purely fictional. I created this town in Marketing Beef and it also appeared in One Night Stand. If you’re familiar with Boston’s North Shore (or even if you’re not) you might be interested to know it sits between Beverly and Wenham, Massachusetts.
Well, more to follow on the world building of Conant, Massachusetts, details about Salem, and the magic of Summerwind Island. What are some of the cool city names—or towns— and fictional places you like?