My story shall take place on Earth with the human race as the dominant species. I imagine the technological and scientific progress to be 10 to 20 years in the future from now (our current real life state) but basically I want to build a world environment which is pretty much like ours.

However, I am struggling with the question whether or not I should use our real world cities and countries (e.g., US, UK, Russia, China, etc.) and their political situations, historical backgrounds and cultures.

Doing that would require me to stick to real historical facts which i want to avoid. I am aware that i need to develop my own politics, history and culture for the countries but i want to take our world just as an inspiration and create something new from it.

But now I can't think of a good way to convey that "alternative reality of humankind" to the readers without confusing them. For example, I feel like when writing about inventions, that happened in the near past, I shouldn't let these inventions happen in a totally different world with different city and country names.

Very basic example:

Thomas Edison invented the light bulb and was a US citizen. (true or not doesn't matter)

For me, it feels odd if I would say:

Keith Coleman, the inventor of the light bulb, was a citizen of the united nations of Quimbleton (names I just came up with)

In my opinion, this would confuse the reader.

I know that other writers have built these human worlds without referring to our 'real' Earth directly (especially in fantasy, e.g., Tolkien's Lord of the Rings). But I can only think of examples where the 'potential time gap' between our time and the time in the book is very large. For example, Lord of the Rings plays in medieval times.

Another thing is that I cannot limit the geographical area of the story (like Tolkien with Middle earth) because I will definitely address space travel at some point, which requires even more than a planet-sized area.

To bring it to a point, I want the technological progress, the state of science, the environment, and probably the cultural habits to be pretty much like ours nowadays. But I want to use different names for cities, countries, persons, etc., so that there is no real world connection via names.

My question is: What is a good way to convey the following to the reader:

"Yes this is Earth, this is pretty much your time and there are a lot things you already know about. But no, you don't know any of the countries, cities or persons and you know nothing about their politics, history and culture. I will explain this to you part by part."

Edit: I noticed that people are getting me wrong and think that i don't want to do any research on history and cultures in our real world, trying to go for a simple way. It's really just that i don't want to necessarily stick to our real world political systems and historical events. My world building would of course be highly affected by our real world events and systems but i just want the freedom to create something new from it. I am not trying to go the "easy" way.

  • $\begingroup$ Welcome to worldbuilding. I have the feeling that this is better suited for writing.SE, but not being an active user there, I leave the decision to other dwelling in both realms. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 10:56
  • $\begingroup$ That is question for writing stack exchange. What you are missing is that, in your example, only one this is related to our world. Just change that to "light source that used electricity to slowly burn a tungsten wire to generate light" and you're done. Also by supplying more examples you make sure the reader "get a hint" that stuff is the same but the place is different. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 10:57
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    $\begingroup$ "A lot of work for me aside from just writing because I would need to gain a lot of knowledge about the history, politics and culture of the different countries in order to keep things consistent and comprehensible": but most certainly less work than inventing the history, politics and culture of multiple countries. After all, this is knowledge which you can simply research, whereas inventing it all would be a major undertaking. Google and Wikipedia are wonderful sources. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 12:16
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    $\begingroup$ All I can say is that I have read works using both approaches -- that is, both works placed into an entirely fictional world with no overt relationship to real geography and history, and works placed in a world exactly like ours up to a point and then diverging. For example, the well known series of technothrillers featuring Jack Ryan (by Tom Clancy and others) is placed in the real world geographically, with history diverging at an undefined point in the 1980s -- American presidents, Soviet and Russian politicians etc. come from real history up to that point and then are all invented. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ You can set your story in an alternate universe where Earth has had a different history, starting from a point far enough in the past that you wan't have to check any historical references characters or any borders & names of countries, etc., against real history. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 15:46

1 Answer 1


What you describe here could simply be a case of alternative history: at some point of the original Earth history a fact did happen or didn’t happen that changed the whole world history. This change can be big or small if you consider the fact that, thanks to the butterfly effect, any deviation can lead to a significant change after a sufficiently long period of time.

But you want to change everything, including cities, which can be pretty annoying in that case because this is the kind of thing that needs an early deviation… Therefore, there is no reason for the technology of your world to be similar to ours. If you want to be consistent, you have to find a very strong and fast deviation that will change a lot of things (cities, memories of previous civilizations…) without changing others (basic technology). There is plenty of possibilities for that but, from my point of view, such a deviation would greatly impact your story and you should find it yourself: apocalypse, amnesia based virus, ...?

At this point, if you don’t want to consider this kind of brutal change, you should ask yourself “Does the fact to place my story on Earth really brings something to it?”. You can clearly write a story on another world with lightbulbs without never explaining their origin. This is clearly the case in The Lord of the Rings: despite a medieval technology setting the story does not take place on Earth and there is no need for explanation ; the fact that your story takes place on our time is not more bothering...

  • $\begingroup$ Tolkien said that the Lord of the Rings takes place on Earth thousands of years ago, much like the Hyborian Age of Conan, even though the shape of lands and seas has changed since the War of the Ring. Presumably there was a great cataclysm that raised lands out of the seas, sank other lands under the waves, raised mountains out of plains, and collapsed other mountain ranges, sometime between the time of Lord of the Rings and the dawn of recorded history. $\endgroup$ Commented Jun 24, 2019 at 15:52

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