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Geographic Flexibility
"I've lived in Sunnydale a couple of years now. You know what I've never noticed before? This big honkin' castle."

The geography of a fictional location becomes extremely flexible as more and more is added to it.

The most common way this occurs is when the story is set in an ostensibly small town. Small towns have their advantages for fiction, but they may not have every location the plot requires. The plot calls for a dock, so the town has one. The plot calls for a university, and it's there. The plot calls for an industrial district, and it's there. None of this is inherently unreasonable, since many small towns do have those, or are even built around them. But having all of them? Suddenly the town's not looking so small anymore.

In egregious cases, the City of Adventure may gain or lose major geographic features like mountains, or may move to a different climate zone when no one's looking.

Places whose location are never given are particularly prone to this. Compare Chaos Architecture, Traveling at the Speed of Plot.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Comics 
  • Riverdale from Archie comics sometimes spawns a beach or a mountain, and occasionally gives a hint of where it could be located, just to be able to contradict it later.
    • Its size also seems to fluctuate. Depending on the story, Riverdale's a hick town in the middle of nowhere, or is big enough to support an airport and an international stock exchange.
  • Bloom County, from the comic strip of the same name, was first presented in 1980 as a small backwater with a general store and a few farms. Later on it gained a small urban setting that appeared whenever the plot required it; and by the strip's end, Milo's Meadow was drawn quite bizarrely, and the county had a full-fledged Wrong Side of the Tracks.
    • The same thing happened in its spinoff strip, Outland, except in reverse. The Outland was originally supposed to be Another Dimension that featured wacky, Krazy Kat-inspired landscapes. It quietly shifted to feature more normal surroundings, and even became a segment of Bloom County itself in the final strip.
  • Speaking of Krazy Kat, Coconino County even changes before your very eyes.
  • DuckTales' Duckburg is surrounded by desert, prairie, mountains, forest and ocean. It has a spaceport, a cathedral and several other unique buildings, most of which are only seen once.

    Commercials 
  • A Chevy Silverado commercial hung a lampshade on this when a little boy who keeps getting stuck in precarious situations finds himself in a volcano. Dad says, "I didn't even know this town had a volcano", then the camera zooms to a very out-of-place looking volcano.

    Films 
  • The hills visible in the background of 20th-Century Hill Valley in the first Back to the Future are completely absent in the Wild West milieu of the third, which is ostensibly set in the same town some hundred-odd years in the past.

    Literature 
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events: The spatial as well as temporal milieu of the Series is best described as "everywhere and nowhere", as it's apparently far from most known continents, and the large city the Baudelaires lived in doesn't even have a name.
  • Nancy Drew's small hometown of River Heights seems to have whatever experts, businesses, universities, or other resources that are needed for any particular book.
  • Ditto for The Hardy Boys and their hometown of Bayport, they've done a little better in more recent stories, ever since they pinned down where the two towns actually are. Now, they've made the two towns suburbs withing one-day's driving distance from Chicago (River Heights) and New York (Bayport.) Nowadays they just go visit, call, or e-mail when they need help.
  • Dragonriders of Pern does this with an entire planet: The time to walk/ride-a-horse/fly-a-dragon/sail between locations varies as the plot demands — sometimes by what would be hundreds of miles. Amongst fans, it's called the "rubber ruler".
    • Of course, an adult dragon can travel between any two points on the planet in eight seconds flat, so in many situations travel time is negligible.
  • Stephen King does this often. A good many of his books are prefaced with the statement that parts of the city, state, or country that is featured are straight made up.
    • Made very well explicit in The Dark Tower. The geography and distances are stated in-story to actually change. This is probably our first clue that something is seriously wrong with the world. Later, the series begins to explore parallel universes and rolls most of the rest of Stephen King's works, explicitly or implicitly, into its multiverse, setting up an elaborate justification / Handwave / lampshading for any inconsistencies between books: they take place in very similar but subtly different universes!
  • The Discworld. Ankh-Morpork is concisely plotted, but everywhere else can be pretty vague. Fortunately, any possible continuity errors were explained away in Thief of Time as alternate pasts from the badly-repaired fabric of history.
  • The Land of Oz takes this trope up to eleven, to the point of being inconsistent about which direction is east versus west. It's inconsistent whether there's a large river running past the Emerald City to its east, or to its west.
  • Fantasia in The Neverending Story is made of this trope, literally. It is acknowledged in-universe that distances and directions depend on the mental state of the traveler. This is not quite attributed to "the needs of the plot", but only by the very narrowest of margins.
    • The Ivory Tower is also a part of this trope. Since it is always at the center of Fantasia, a land of no borders and presumably goes on forever, the ivory tower can be and usually is close to or far from anywhere.
  • In the author's notes for The Guns of the South, Harry Turtledove admits that he took a degree of Artistic License for a scene where the Confederates look into Washington D.C. from atop a nearby hill and see buildings like the War Department and the White House.
  • Parodied and lampshaded in Barry Trotter and the Dead Horse, which generally does not even try to be consistent. There's a whole volcano near the magic school which just, amazingly, never happened to come up until it's now mentioned.
  • Averted to the point of excessive detail in the 1632 series, about the small Appalachian town of Grantville transported back to the times of the Thirty Years' War. You would think, that the townspeople will start summoning every conceivable future technology needed for themselves, but actually the series takes itself very seriously as a realistic thought experiment about such a town's chances, and consistently keeps track of every person, weapon, computer, book, machine shop, farm, and raw material that is likely to be present in a town of similar properties. In fact, even when it seems like the writers are doing this trope, by surprisingly revealing useful materials such as a formerly hidden library in a mansion's basement, or a huge yacht in some dude's backyard years after the time travel, it's because at a closer inspection they just discovered equivalent anomalies in the real life town of Mannington that they used as a template, so they allowed them in Grantville as well.
  • This happens as a plot point within The Wheel of Time series. As the Last Battle looms and the Dark One's grip on the world grows stronger, reality itself becomes unstable. This can manifest as ghosts or "bubbles of evil" attacking people in strange ways, or as buildings and cities rearranging themselves, corridors or walls appearing where the other should be, empty villages appearing in previously barren lands, populated villages mysteriously vanishing...

    Live Action TV 
  • Sunnydale in Buffy the Vampire Slayer
    • It started off being described as a "one Starbucks town" and gradually acquired more buildings, an entire waterfront district, airport, train station, zoo, dam, a community college and a campus of the University of California.
    • It also lost the entire beach/waterfront portions when the finale needed it to be landlocked.
    • Lampshaded in the episode "Buffy vs Dracula" when Riley wondered how he'd never noticed Sunnydale had its own gothic castle. In that case it's presumed that either Dracula teleported his own castle to Sunnydale, assuming residents wouldn't notice or care, or that the entire episode was caused by reality alteration due to the retroactive creation of Buffy's sister Dawn.
  • Pine Valley, PA, setting of All My Children, ostensibly a small town, has a university with every graduate program you may need, a television station where national network shows are shot, an international airport, a casino (which were illegal in Pennsylvania until very recently), and the headquarters of several major corporations. It also has a beach. In Pennsylvania. An ad for the show on Soapnet parodied all this. And there are several uncharted islands off this beach. In Pennsylvania. Made even worse when you consider Llanview, PA - the setting of sister soap One Life to Live. Both shows establish that the towns are neighbors, located across the river from each other. Llanview also has an international airport, a major University, and several corporate headquarters. Pine Valley is supposed to be located near Philadelphia - itself a major city with all of these trappings.
  • Craggy Island, in Father Ted parodies this trope. Usually it seems there are only a handful of people living on the island, but in one episode there's an entire Chinatown district Ted never knew about. Even weirder, a hugely disproportionate number of those inhabitants are priests. (For reference, the island of Inishbofin, which is in roughly the same place has about 200 inhabitants. No word on how many of those are priests). There is one constant: it has no west side. "It just broke loose during some bad weather and floated off."
  • The size of Rutherford in 3rd Rock from the Sun seemed to change between episodes. Sometimes it was implied to be a tiny college town and other times it seemed to be a decent-sized city.
  • Residents of Dog River, Saskatchewan on Corner Gas often refer to (and drive to) "the city" but it's unclear whether it's Saskatoon or Regina they're going to. In some cases Regina is implied, but in one case Saskatoon is mentioned explicitly, i.e., "You went to Saskatoon for a morning swim?" The show also subverts the trope, often having a character declare emphatically that Dog River doesn't have an item that many sitcom towns tend to have for story convenience. For example, the above-mentioned "morning swim" comment was the result of Brent pretending that his case of pink eye was the result of taking a dip in an over-chlorinated pool, but Hank and Wanda point out that there's not a swimming pool anywhere in Dog River.
  • The island on LOST, while admittedly a Genius Loci with many mysterious and magical properties, features many locations that you'd think the survivors would have encountered during their first month or so, like an entire village surrounded by a big sonic fence, the various Dharma stations, the ruins of a giant statue, and a whole 'nother island right next to it! This could also be attributed to the fact that the losties were somewhat fearful of exploring the jungle because of the monster, the Others, and the various strange whispers and apparations, but still.
    • The Losties not finding these things is at least moderately plausible, but Rousseau had been on the Island for 16 years and claimed never to see a lot of the stuff she came across when with the Losties. Granted, she was mad, but hadn't she supposedly been obsessed with finding her daughter? And she never came across the death pylons set in the incredible obvious grassy plain area near the centre?
    • Season six has the gigantic Temple be practically next to the barracks, judging by how quickly Kate and Sawyer can go from it to the latter.
    • Lampshaded in season six when Jack wonders how they had never managed to discover a giant stone lighthouse before.
  • Angel Grove for the first six seasons of Power Rangers, largely due to the mix of varying Stock Footage from Super Sentai and on-location footage from LA. There's the city proper, the beach, the adjacent vast desert, a large forested nature preserve, the park (which got bigger as time went on, eventually developing a massive lake that wasn't there before), snow-capped mountains not too far away, and, of course, innumerable suspiciously similar quarries scattered throughout all of the above for convenient fight-sceneing.
    • Don't forget the Abandoned Warehouse District.
    • It also has historical flexibility, with matching scenery. It was settled by the British in the early 1700s (despite being in California), and was mostly grassy fields. In the late 1800s, it was full of prospectors, cowboys, and other Wild West stereotypes, and was mostly barren desert.
    • This has led to an interesting (if wrong) assumption by fans that the town is Los Angeles. Power Rangers takes place in an alternate universe, and since the British found California before the Spanish, the town was given an English name instead of a Spanish one.
  • In Robin Hood, a convenient orphanage pops up on the outskirts of Locksley right when the outlaws need to dispose of a group of kids. Did they even have orphanages in those days?
    • They were mostly located in monasteries.
  • The fictional Lanford, Illinois in Roseanne wasn't as bad as most. However, it started as a small rural backwater with one single factory supplying jobs for the majority of the town (the collapse of Wellman Plastics had a strong ripple during the show.) As the series went on, it became large enough to support a mall that should have provided just as many jobs as the factory, and such niche stores such as a motorcycle shop (temporarily,) a rare book store, a community theater, a sleazy massage parlor, a Hooters-knockoff called "Bunz."
  • In Scrubs, the hospital gains and loses aisles right as the plot demands.
  • Smallville didn't do too badly, the titular town's geography remain stable, as did Metropolis. But it still cropped up from time to time; the Smallville Luthorcorp plant seemed to grow an entire research wing (on a waste treatment plant) and Metropolis was sometimes so close to Smallville you could see it from a not very tall windmill and sometimes far enough away even Super Speed took a while to get you there.
  • Midsomer Murders used this trope a lot, considering that it's one of the Long Runners of British TV and is set in a small fictional English county with a predominantly rural, old-timey character.
  • Hogan's Heroes was never too clear on exactly where in Germany Stalag 13 was located. Throughout the series the camp is always conveniently within walking or at least driving distance of whatever German city is important to the current plot. In fact there was at least one episode where it was within a short driving distance of Paris (they somehow managed to get there, get a copy of a painting made, and return in a single day).
    • When they needed to refer to the nearby town, it was always Hammelburg, a real town in Germany where two POW camps with names similar to Stalag 13 were historically located. It's pretty close to the center of Germany, though, so driving to Paris and back in a day isn't going to happen. In one episode where a map showing the locations of a number of unresolved instances of sabotage was briefly shown, this seems to be the right vicinity.

    Radio 
  • Simply because the sheer length of the Adventures in Odyssey (thirty years and they're still making new episodes), the town of Odyssey has gone from a small quaint Midwestern town to a place complete with a full scale downtown (with skyscrapers), its own suburb, an international airport, multiple malls, a community college, at least one full-scale amusement park, and a zoo. (And everything still seems to be within walking distance.)

    Video Games 
  • In Diablo II's multiplayer, the wilderness areas outside of towns change shape everytime one plays.
  • The American localization of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney apparently takes place in Los Angeles, California (Pacific time zone, near a movie studio). The sequel introduces the extremely Japanese Kurain Village, which is two hours away by train. The 3rd game introduces a snow covered mountain expanse with another extremely Japanese Kurain Temple located not much further beyond that. The reason, of course, is that it was an extremely Japanese game series before being localized. Fan Wank would indicate that there was simply a lot more cultural exchange between Japan and California in the series' Alternate Universe, which is why no one bats an eye at people in Japanese clothing walking around in LA.
  • The Mushroom Kingdom in the Super Mario Bros. series. Yeah, totally different in layout, features and just about everything in literally every single game and adaption, has possibly a more flexible geography situation than even Springfield in The Simpsons, and more stuff than many series have in the entire universe. Heck, even the interiors totally change per game.
  • The Legend of Zelda series has a significantly different Hyrule every game (going so far as to submerge it for The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker and build a new one by the time of The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks), but it's justified as significant period of time and/or space separate most of the games.
  • Downplayed in Super Metroid, where the parts of the game that were featured in the NES prequel remain pretty much the same, but much of the geography had considerably changed. Also, while the entirety of the setting had an explosion in the first game, Metroid: Zero Mission lets you return and continue exploring long after this event, to which nothing has changed (you can even go back and visit the final area in its entirety, though the last few rooms of it are a charred, blown-out wasteland).
  • Castlevania. This was eventually lampshaded and explained in Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow. Chaos, the true master of the castle (Bestiary be damned!), rebuilds the entirety of... whatever the castle is called at that particular time from scratch if for no other reason than aesthetics, like some otherworldly interior decorator run amok.
  • Raccoon City from Resident Evil is supposed to be a relatively small mountain town in the middle of "The Arklay Mountains", but over the course of the games gains a subway system, a university, all the way up to Outbreak: File #2's sudden addition of the Raccoon City Zoo. Complete with only that which could become extremely dangerous when zombified or pissed off. If the ending of Resident Evil 2 is any indication, characters in the series travel far enough to reach an arid desert-like valley, among other places. At least with Code: Veronica, the game tells you that you're traveling to Antarctica. In Resident Evil 5, it seems to be indicated that Chris and Sheva travel from South Africa to Kenya, though they do travel by boat, jeep, and plane along the way.
  • Backyard Sports has different stadiums every game, but is always assumed to be a small town (confirmed in Skateboarding), so it is an example of this trope.
  • Gensoukyou, the setting of Touhou, has had many things added to it over the years that were apparently only discovered in the game in which they debut, including Misty Lake, the Garden of the Sun, Mayohiga, part of the Sanzu River, and both Koumakan and Eientei. More recent games have managed to avoid this though, with locations either mentioned before (Youkai Mountain) or explicitly stated to have recently arrived in Gensoukyou (a second lake, the Moriya Shrine, and even a nuclear fusion plant).
  • This is a gameplay mechanic in Legend of Mana: you get to places on the World Map. Each place emanates Mana of certain colors, which affects immediate previously placed places.
  • Reality On The Norm. It is a Shared Universe based around the eponymous city. The first game featured a handful of very basically drawn locations. With each new game, these same locations have been considerably expanded, with different versions of the same places used interchangably. It's only been in recent years that any real attempt has been made to bring some coherence to their respective locations.
  • Invoked in The Simpsons Tapped Out, even more so than in the show itself, where the player decides where buildings are located, and can move them around at any point for strategic, aesthetic, or boredom-fuelled purposes.
    Homer: One time our house was built next to a prison so I could make a joke about how we lived next to a prison. Then five minutes later, no more prison. Weird, huh?
  • Silent Hill. Between the first and second games, the map of the town changes completely. The third game keeps the map of the second game despite being a continuation of the plot of the first game. Pretty much every game after that has had its own version of the town. Could be explained in-universe as the town itself being a semi-sentient Eldritch Abomination, shifting its geography to suit its whims.

    Web Original 
  • Free Country USA in Homestar Runner is whatever size and sophistication level it needs to be for the current cartoon.
    • This is even parodied in Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People, where Strong Bad can put other Free Country USA landmarks anywhere he wants on the map, and even rearrange them as he sees fit. His own house starts in the middle, but it's just as mobile. In the second game, he makes a new map by drawing on a Risk-like game map.
    • Free Country USA usually appears to be about half a dozen buildings (three houses, the King of Town's castle, the Concession Stand, Coach Z's locker room) in the middle of nowhere, explicitly told not to have roads (or functioning cars), and yet the houses are decently sized, there's utilities, a postal service (and presumably a zip code), Internet access, a few in-story television shows and commercials filmed there, and so forth. Best not to think too hard about it.
  • Welcome to Night Vale: Night Vale is explicitly described as "a small desert community" yet it's large enough to have a National Guard site, a community college, and airport, and also possesses a harbor and waterfront despite being landlocked. On the other hand, it's also an Eldritch Location so its city planning may have some Alien Geometries involved.
    • Invoked in the episode "Subway", in which an entire subway system literally and inexplicably appears overnight.
  • The main town of the Buildingverse is prone to this (it grew several restaurants, a university, a river that later couldn't be found, or a hill just to make a heroic Diving Save possible, amongst other things), as are magical kingdoms where Sudden Geography, for example a sea appearing from nowhere to slow down an attacking army, is totally normal. All this in universe is explained by... magic or flat out Narrative Convenience.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons openly embraces this problem. See Separate Simpsons Geography Thing.
  • The animated show Code Lyoko suffers from this slightly. Most clues to the location of the show put it in France (satellite photos), despite a few episodes contradicting this (such as the visit of a French foreign exchange student). This however, is an artifact of the dubbing and localization process. The town would be specifically Boulogne-Billancourt, in the suburbs of Paris. However, the French version does obfuscate a bit the exact location too, never mentioning any place name (or that the river is the Seine).
  • Kim Possible: Middleton, apparently a fairly small midwestern town, grew and grew and grew.
    • Lampshaded in the season 4 episode "Clothes Minded", when Kim chases Drakken and Shego through a series of increasingly obscure local technical labs that she didn't know Middleton had.
  • Parodied in the first episode of Clerks: The Animated Series; when Leonardo Leonardo is opening his new convenience store-slash-shopping mall only a few doors down from the Quick Stop AND his new skyscraper, both Dante and Randall point out how unlikely it is that they wouldn't have noticed such large buildings constructed around them; especially as Leonardo's skyscraper is the only skyscraper in the entire town.
  • Daria: Lawndale is a suburb of Baltimore according to Word of God, but is still perpetually green and within day-trip distance of both deserts lousy with cactus, cowboys, and redneck bars, and mountains subject to sudden blizzards.
  • Dimmsdale of The Fairly Oddparents could be its own country for all that happens there, even without Timmy's interference.
    • Fairy Idol reveals Dimmsdale to be located in southern California, in an area east of Burbank but west of Death Valley. However, there is the fictional snow covered mountainous country of "Tibecuidore" that exists in Central America.
    • Dimmsdale is in Imperial County, California, which is at the southeast corner of the state (east of San Diego County and south of Riverside County). Dimmsdale also seems big enough to have a population in the millions, whereas the real Imperial County has a population of slightly over 100,000.
    • Although the show was usually unambiguous about Dimmsdale being out west, there was the episode that flashed back to the founder, "Dale Dimm," who lived in what appeared to be a knockoff of colonial Salem (or about as far away in America as you're going to get).
  • South Park is in Colorado. We hear it's a small redneck town, and it did show it more than The Simpsons that it seemed to be so, but, nowadays, it has malls, supermarkets, baseball parks, TV studios, a "little future" time-travellers' district and several fast food chains, both fictional and real, not to mention a plastic surgeon (Tom's Rhinoplasty appears in a lot of background shots). Strangely enough, some locations, such as Stark's pond and Doctor Mephesto's lab, still exist. Fanon states that the South Park docks were built hastily over Stark's pond for the Halloween party.
  • Danville, and even more the Tri-State Area of Phineas and Ferb could be anywhere, but is shown as having mountains, a desert (literally right next to each other), at least three different museums, two malls, a lake, two separate rivers, and docks on the ocean. Not to mention the easy access to landmarks across the country.
  • Teamo Supremo was constantly summoned by The Governor to save the state, but exactly which state the series takes place in is never revealed/stated.
  • Family Guy: Quahog, Rhode Island is seemingly a suburb of Providence (with its skyline in the background), which has a modest metropolitan population of 1.6 million in real life, and a city proper of less than 200,000. Despite this, Quahog has an international airport, a subway system, and other "big city" features that even Providence lacks. Sometimes the small skyline resembles Providence well, other times it looks like a huge sprawling metropolis. Earlier episodes resembled the real-life area more (Peter Griffin even jumps off a skyscraper resembling one in Providence), whereas later episodes drifted apart from the real-life counterpart, where Quahog has a split personality between small town and bustling metropolis depending on the nature of the plot.
  • According to The Other Wiki, X Middle School from Fillmore! is located in the suburbs of Minneapolis and St. Paul, though based on the characters' nationalities, interests, and accents (although many of the parents have stereotypical Midwestern accents) it could be located almost anywhere.
  • Ponyville in My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic seems to acquire a system of gem-loaded caves, a really big mountain, a large cliff, and who knows how much other stuff when the episode calls for it.
    • The most egregrious example would have to be the sudden hydroelectric dam, skyscraper construction site and deadly unguarded cliffs in "The Mysterious Mare-Do-Well".
    • Actually, the official map of Equestria has now been leaked, view it here.
    • In both that map and "One Bad Apple", it is established that Ponyville is to the west of Manehattan. However, oddly, in "The Cutie Mark Chronicles", young Applejack sees the sun rising over Ponyville from Manehattan. Either the sun rises in the west in this universe, or Celestia was just messing with her.
  • Bikini Bottom from SpongeBob SquarePants is shown to be this, as well. In most episodes it's a typical small town (small towns are usually underwater, right?), but other episodes have shown that it contains a mall, a racetrack, and an Olympic stadium, among other things.
  • When not setting the entire episode in a fanciful setting (such as space, the prehistoric age, or Wonderland), Mindy and Buttons of Animaniacs live close to whatever the episode's gags require: racetracks, airports, rainforest, cliffs, etc.
  • Scooby-Doo! Mystery Incorporated is set in Crystal Cove, which actually exists in southern California. It's on Pacific Coast Highway (state highway 1) south-southeast of Los Angeles proper.
  • The Candy Kingdom in the first episode of Adventure Time was contained entirely within its city walls, and had a population small enough to be protected by Finn and Jake and fit inside the castle's main hall. At the end of season five, there are subway trains with ads in multiple languages, a police force complete with helicopters and a jail, and has expanded outside the walls to the extent that the government collects taxes from Finn and Jake themselves.


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