QUESTION: I've tried to turn small towns I'm familiar with into fictional towns or settings--usually for a paranormal world. Each time, I've ended up with a big, confusing, frustrated mess. You have mentioned that you have done this. Do you have any tips or tricks for developing your hometown into a fictional town?
In my novel, TIME AFER TIME, my heroine’s hometown of Moravia is literally my hometown with the location of streets, etc.
The heroine's engagement party is in a country club that's about five miles away from where I live. I fiddled a bit with the look of the huge room and the patio where she meets the hero, though, to fit the plot.
The hero picks her up in a horse and carriage and takes her to the golf course to the east of the country club.
I know where the McDonalds is that they stop at for a late snack and the apartment complex where she lives.
In another series set in Moravia which is my go-to site for all my paranormal novels, the hero's house is about a block away from where I live. The house is across the street from the Methodist church I went to as a child.
The hero and his best friend ride on trails I rode as a girl, and the heroine goes to a fictional version of my alma mater. When she drives there, I know what she passes, and the campus is described accurately.
If I change some element of the real town for my fictional town, I make a note to myself to that effect although I rarely reuse settings like the country club.
I give the streets different names because I don't want people to make too close a connection between High Point and Moravia, and for the series, I'm using the High Point of forty years ago because it fits better. Those riding trails are now housing developments, for example.
Rather than a map, I have an equals list.
Willow Street = Chestnut Drive
Nathanton = Greensboro
Most of my names have a word play involved. Willow and Chestnut are both trees, and Greensboro is named after Revolutionary War hero, Nathaniel Green.
I never use exact distances, but I know how long it would take to get from the magic equipment storage warehouse to Daniel's house in the middle of the night if you were driving well over the speed limit.
This information doesn't really change what happens or anything, but just knowing helps keep the place real for me, and, hopefully, that makes the place more real to the reader.