Should I use a fictional city or...

I'm sort of stuck in analysis paralysis when it comes to writing my novel. I'm stuck always thinking my world building isn't good enough or I should change something. Anyway, part of my novel takes place in a real city but I've never lived there. The city is big but not well known so it's hard to find information about the area other than looking at wikipedia.

Should I just use a fictional city? It seems like it would be easier to place things and I wouldn't get called out about not knowing the landscape.

If the city is in Google Maps, and specifically Streetview, you can find out piles of information without ever going there.

I've set my serial in a non-existant West Michigan city that is a combination of a couple cities that I have been to. Making up a city has the advantage of no one being able to complain about what's really there and what isn't. That said, when my characters travel, I have exclusively used real cities. There, I use Google Maps with Streetview and find that I can look up businesses about as easily as I can in real life.

I used a fake city for the exact same reason Jim did, and while it's a lot of work I find the whole world building thing fun. So if your into that thing it's solid entertainment, and immensely gratifying to have an entire city planned out.

Authors fudge little details about real life places all the time for the sake of their story. That should always come first. If it's important to the story that you use a real place, use it. Research what you can and keep things accurate as possible, but if you have to make stuff up because the story demands it, then the story should win out. Just make sure everything is <i>internally</i> consistent.

Personal example: I'm presently writing stuff set around the Cornish hamlet of Bolventor. My research consists of Google Maps/images and a Daphne du Maurier novel. One scene is set by a lake in the area that's about two hundred metres above sea level. I wanted to show the tides sweeping over the lake to help show the state of the world, but Serious Business calculations only put the tide level at around 160m above sea level. I figured what the hell, forty metres isn't that big an issue, and wrote it into the previous draft.

But then I noticed it doesn't correlate with the current phase of the Moon, which is something I <i>do</i> want to keep consistent, so I've got to revise the scene in the next rewrite XD

I think it's a matter of weighing pros and cons. First ask yourself, why are you using that real city in the first place - versus some different real city? Does it matter if your novel's city is on the west coast versus the east coast? What is it about THAT city that drew you there? If you know someone there, maybe ask them. If it was for some unique feature(s), stick with it, but if you were simply looking for a somewhat generic rural town, why not make one up? "Metropolis" works for Superman.

If the issue is more that you're second guessing your ability to create a fictional city, ask yourself why you're hesitant there. Is it because you don't know where to put City Hall? There's nothing wrong with a real place as a frame of reference. And depending on the story, there's the "parallel universe" creative liberties. (You say there's no church there? Well, in my story, those buildings burned down years ago.) There's also the possible danger that a real place will slow you down, as you keep looking up details -- a friend of mine puts in <street> as something to look up later for that reason.

As for me, I made up an Ontario town to use as a setting for my T&T time story. While I'll likely shift the location to Ottawa eventually, that's because I need a university, and I live here. But that may be because I don't want to fall down the rabbit hole of constant research.

I'd like to add here that if the city is a real one that has suffered a lot of prior damage in-story, feel free to add a little artistic license. They might rebuild Tokyo completely different after the first few times Godzilla wrecked the place.

I like real cities, myself. But, then, I like to focus my stories on realistic people suffering real issues. I find that building a new city stifles my creativity- I like to throw curveballs at myself, to grow my stories around and through the setting instead of building settings that exist only to justify my plot.

To date, no one's complained about my use and portrayal of their homes here, either. Unless "Dammit, you mean Chicago's world famous for corruption in this setting, too?" counts as a complaint.

Google street view is your friend - if you're using a real city and not assuming monstesr wrecked the place in an explosion of magic and interdimensional craziness.

Godzilla is so last century. When is Psycho Gecko going to wreck Tokyo? ;)

On a more serious note, I'm using a mix of real and imagined locations - for instance, I replaced the town of Everett with a town named Averton, but my Seattle is the same as ours. I wanted the world to feel 'real', but at the same time, my story includes some places with negative connotations (unpleasant locals, bad stuff happening etc). I didn't want to upset any readers who might just happen to live in those places, so I made something up.