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Richard Ford on setting

One of the things I’ve always liked about Richard Ford’s writing is his use of setting. In fact, I like to think that I learned a lot about setting by reading Richard Ford, although someone, somewhere, no doubt feels that I didn’t.

I have always been annoyed at those people who insist on complaining that, for example, the details of some setting are wrong—that there is no pizzeria on such-and-such a street, for example, or that the gas station on the corner of This and That is not open 24 hours. Who cares? As soon as one steps into the fictional universe, the setting (and, indeed, history) belongs to that fictional universe.

So I enjoyed this, from Richard Ford, answering a question on the BBC World Book Club podcast:

Years ago, I was working on a story set in Great Falls, Montana, and I was publishing the story in The New Yorker. And I had said that the YWCA, the Young Women’s Christian Association, where there was a swimming pool, was on 2nd Avenue South. And the fact checker from The New Yorker called me at home and said, “Mr. Ford,” he said, “ah, the YWCA is actually on 8th Street North-West. Would you just mind if we just corrected that?”

And I said, “No,” I said, “it has too many syllables.”

For me, I want the freedom that is possible in all ways to make the landscape of my fictional town be amenable to my needs.

I’ve always thought fact-checking fiction is something of a contradiction in terms. But that’s me.

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