Using Fictional v. Real Places in a Novel


A long view of the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, the setting for “In His Corner.”

In “The Great Gatsby,” F. Scott Fitzgerald introduced us to the fictional places East Egg and West Egg, which refer to Long Island, New York. In Anne Tyler’s “Accidental Tourist,” we are told straightaway that the setting is Baltimore, the author’s beloved hometown. Is it better to invent a location or use a real place in your novel?

As you can see with the abovementioned examples, either way can work well. In my debut romance book, “In His Corner,” (published under my pen name Vina Arno), I used a combination of fictional and real places. The novel takes place in San Francisco.

My Book’s Setting Becomes My Reality

Thirty-third Avenue in the Outer Richmond neighborhood in San Francisco.

Thirty-third Ave. in the Outer Richmond neighborhood in San Francisco.

I started writing “In His Corner” in July 2013, three months after I first visited San Francisco. I was enamored by the city’s charming Victorian buildings and houses, the distinct rolling streets made famous by the Steve McQueen film “Bullitt,” and the breathtaking San Francisco Bay. I knew right away that it was going to be the setting for my first romance book.

Fast forward to August 2015—Lyrical Press has published “In His Corner” and I’ve moved to a city 100 miles away from San Francisco. Coincidence? Yes and no.

In my book, I chose the place. In my life, I had less control. I had no idea whether my manuscript would be accepted by a publisher, where my husband’s next job would be located, and which university our college-age daughter would choose. Those things were a result of serendipity.

When my family drove to San Francisco over the Labor Day holiday weekend, this amazing overlap between fiction and reality finally hit me. San Francisco was rooted in my imagination in the past two years, throughout the writing and publication process of my book. Now it’s part of my reality.

“In His Corner’s” San Francisco

Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco.

Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” at the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco.

“In His Corner” is about the unlikely romance between an up-and-coming boxer, Tommy Raines (also known as the Juggernaut), and Siena Carr, an ER doctor. She was born into money, while he comes from a blue-collar family. She’s from the East Coast, while he’s a favorite son of San Francisco. She’s an Ivy League graduate; he’s a college dropout. All of these make for a tempestuous romance.

Here are some of the places, fictional and real, mentioned in the book:

  • Western Addition: The Juggernaut lives in an old warehouse turned into a residence in Western Addition, a real neighborhood in San Francisco. There’s no such warehouse in this area. Yet, it’s important for the character to live in a warehouse because he has an indoor boxing ring, which would be impossible in a regular house or apartment building in San Francisco.
  • Marina District: Siena Carr lives in a tiny condo worth half a million dollars. This neighborhood with a great view of the bay is indeed upscale.
  • Tenderloin District: This is where Tommy takes Siena on their first date. The hamburger restaurant and the rooftop club mentioned in the book are fictionalized versions of real places in the area.
  • SoMa (South of Market): Siena invites the Juggernaut to a gallery-cum-club in this area, which is indeed home to art centers, galleries, and night clubs.
  • Pacific Heights: Siena works in a hospital in this area. She likes to take a walk in a nearby park and attend Mass in a Catholic church in the neighborhood. While Pacific Heights is real, the church described in the book is defunct; the hospital and the park are fictional.

Read an excerpt here.

Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” in the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco.

Claude Monet’s “Water Lilies” in the Legion of Honor Museum in San Francisco.

“In His Corner” is On Sale

“In His Corner” (contemporary romance book) by Vina Arno, published by Lyrical Press, is available for only 99 cents until Oct. 4, 2015.

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September 2015: “The Thinker” photo by Vincent Fazzi. All other photos by Cindy Fazzi.

Leave a comment


  1. It’s fun to include real places in novels. I’ve done it once and, like you, enjoyed going to the places where my characters interacted, “seeing” them in those spots. Fiction and reality collide. 🙂

    • I agree. Writing about real places is not only fun but a great excuse to travel(: Thanks for stopping by and leaving a comment!

  2. I debated this in my newest work. I have it taking place in my hometown (write what you know!) but I changed the names of everything. Locals will be able to guess from my clues, but I didn’t want to get into legal trouble…and didn’t feel like researching the rules. Now I’ll have a fun contest on my blog, once the book is published. 😉

  1. Top 10 Places in Literature that Will Trigger Your Wanderlust | Cindy Fazzi

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