Recently, one of my writing groups posed a few questions that are interesting, to say the least. They asked 'who uses real towns or makes up their own' for their books, and then someone asked how to indicate phone numbers and social security numbers, etc (identifying characteristics of a person) in a book.
So, as a writer, do you use fake items? As a reader, do you even care? Why would anyone ever indicate a social security number, unless it was an integral part of the story?
I sometimes use real places in a story, but much prefer to make up my own town. My rules, my directions, my thoughts. If I've never been to the area, a fake town is a lot easier to deal with. But if I have been to the area, I might know a few things that'll be landmarks to the town. For example, in San Antonio, Texas, did you know there's a mall right near the Alamo (down a ways and across a small alley)? And there are shops across the street? I never would've known that from a map, but since I've been there (and LOVED it), it's something I could include in a story. It's also possible to walk from the mall to the strip of hotels using the RiverWalk and not have to walk on the streets. Just go downstairs in the mall and outside, and you're at the RiverWalk. It's also possible to swim or even walk through the water on the RiverWalk. It's only about 4 feet deep in most places.
But I digress (can you tell I LOVE San Antonio?). The point is, I love making up a town. I usually try to place it in a vague area, like in a field or give directions that aren't exact on how to get there.
For phone numbers, I write 'she rattled off the digits for the number' and leave it at that. Can you imagine what it'd be like to have your personal phone number in a book, just because someone made up numbers and it happened to be YOUR number? That'd be rotten. I know in TV shows, they start with '555' for the first three digits of the phone number because it used to not be used. I'm not sure if it's used today or not, but don't want to chance that it might not be used in the future.
Now, as for social security number, I wouldn't touch that one. First, there's a chance someone has that number. If you publicize it, I would think a lawsuit might be in order from that person (think if it's a celebrity). I would guess that a fake SS# would include zeros, but I'm not even sure of that one. If it were an integral part of my story, though, I'd just say 'ending with' and make it four zeros. Or they'd compare cards or something like that. But no way would I create a fake SS#.
And, even if I did use a real town, I'd make up a street number and name, to protect anyone on the real street. I know I wouldn't want to be singled out to a reader or multiple readers.
What about you? Do you know if something's fake when you read it, and do you even care?
Have a great week!