Since I started my first novel nearly six years ago one of the biggest issues I’ve had is deciding whether to set it in a real city or to invent a city. I eventually chose to create a fictional city, mainly because my story has very specific needs that must be present in order for it to work. It made more sense to build a city to fit those needs rather than struggling to make the story fit into what was already there.
Creating my own city would be all fine and dandy except I’ve never felt fully confident about the city of New Halcyon, other than its name. I love the name. Halcyon refers to a time of peace and calm. Also it is a mythical bird similar to the kingfisher that is said to bring peace. Since my story is post-apocalyptic, I loved the irony.
New Halcyon is a large metropolis set in Colorado, and is essentially a mash-up of Denver and Boulder. Even though it’s post-apocalyptic, it’s still set relatively in the current time. My problem is that I feel weird putting this big city in the middle of an area that already has a big city. I fear that readers will be going, “Hey, what happened to Denver?” or “This sounds like Boulder” or “I’ve never heard of this place, what do you mean it has an airport, a major hospital, and a convention center?” Because of my concerns I’ve felt really awkward even mentioning the state. I seriously considered not mentioning the state at all, but since I mention other states it might be weird not to mention the state the story actually takes place in. Sure, that stuff might fly on The Simpsons, but I don’t think I can get away with it in my book.
I’ve wondered if some of my concerns come from the fact that it is a big city, and not a small town. In another book I’m writing I created a small fictional town and I’m not having any of the same confidence issues with it. It’s a wonderful creepy little town inspired by other creepy little towns like Twin Peaks and Derry. It seems much less disruptive to create a small town rather than a large city. By creating a large city I feel like I’m messing with the natural order of things.
Adding to my anxiety is the fact that I’m having a hard time thinking of other fictional large cities that are set in present day (other than in comic book universes.) Authors invent small towns for books all the time, but I don’t see a lot of big cities created. If there are, I either haven’t read them or have forgotten about them, and I would love to know if anyone knows of any.
I’ve been trying to pep talk myself into having confidence in my fake city. I keep saying: If I own it, readers will accept it. But as I started my umpteenth revision last month I still didn’t have faith in it. I was at a loss until this past weekend when I was up in the mountains. Much of my story takes place in the woods, so I guess the scenery was right for inspiration. I was suddenly hit with a wonderful epiphany (I hope) of how to make my story work in the Colorado that already exists. It’s funny how long it can take for an answer to come.
Even though I’m saying goodbye to New Halcyon, I’m still interested in learning other people’s opinions on this subject. Would you “believe” a large city that doesn’t exist in reality when it’s surrounded by places that do exist? Were all my fears just baseless? I’d love to hear people’s thoughts.
As always, thanks for commenting, reading and sharing. Here’s hoping my epiphany is a good one.