Places & Spaces

I recently had to go back in one of my novels and change the name of a popular restaurant I used. Why? Because the restaurant went out of business and I didn’t want to date my novel by having a restaurant that no longer exists. So instead I changed it to Becky’s Diner, knowing that Becky’s Diner is an institution that has been around for awhile, and should be around for the foreseeable future.

As a reader, do you enjoy reading about real places and products in a novel? I know I do. I tend to look up stuff on the internet after reading about place and see if the mentioned restaurant or coffee shop really exists. Or a particular brand of local beer. Real places in a book grounds the story for me and makes it authentic. If I’m visiting that city, its a place where I probably would like to visit, and sit in the same seat that a familiar character or villian once sat in, like Norm in Cheers. Or quaff a local brew that the characters like to drink.

But there are times when I need to use a fictional business place or restaurant in my story. For example, if one of my characters has a bad meal there. Or if something negative happens in the business that might end up with the owner of the establishment suing me for libel. Ha! I’m a working writer. Good luck getting blood from a stone.

Say I’m writing a story about an unethical doctor or shady hospital administrator. Or a sleazy college professor who seduces his students. In that scenario, there’s no way I’m using a real name. Instead of Maine Medical I’ll make up another name, like Casco Bay Hospital. Or Dirigo University. I’ll use a name that won’t get me in trouble, but somehow alludes to the locale I’m setting my story in. I’ll never write a novel about a chef who poisons his customers and have him working at a wonderful floating restaurant named Demillo’s.

In one of my earlier books, a horror novel before I transitioned to crime fiction, I set one gory scene in a well-known Boston college. This was before I really started thinking about places and spaces in my novel. Well, it could have been a disaster publicity-wise. But instead the book made 10 Best Literary References to Berklee College, alingside some big name writers.

My general rule in using an establishment or product’s name in a book is to use if it’s good, and change the name if it reflects negatively on the place or product. I’ve even had instances in my book where readers were so convinced a fictional beer was real that they looked it up, only to discover it never really existed. I suppose that’s a compliment.

In any case, if you’re a writer, keep using those landmarks in your manuscript to give a sense of place and space. Mention popular local beers and coffee shops. Your readers will surely appreciate it and enjoy your novel more than if you go generic.

About joesouza

I am a writer of crime novels
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4 Responses to Places & Spaces

  1. David Plimpton says:

    Joe, you said, “… that might end up with the owner of the establishment suing me for libel. Ha! I’m a working writer. Good luck getting blood from a stone…” You’re right that you want to avoid libelous statements and changing names to protect the innocent [or guilty as the case may be] is a wise policy

    As a retired lawyer who was involved in civil litigation for over 50 years, you may want to check with your own lawyer. But I can tell, in my experience, you don’t want to get sued, because you have to defend the suit and hire a lawyer to defend you or you can defend yourself, the latter in my opinion being legal suicide. Then if you lose, there will be a judgment against you that can be enforced via liens on your property (real and personal) and possibly against your earnings.

  2. matthewcost says:

    I go both ways with one series in Brunswick and the other in fictional Port Essex. The best of both worlds. LOL. Good thoughts here!

  3. joesouza says:

    True, Matt.

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