So you’ve decided to set your book in a faraway place, one to which you’ve never been.
Perhaps, or maybe your imagination conjured up a story that doesn’t fit in the cozy suburb you’re used to. If you want your setting to seem authentic, you’ll have to learn a bit about it.
Does your location have mountains? If so, are they craggy peaks with snow and alpine meadows, or are they lower and tree-covered? Or is it flat, with views for miles around? Can your characters see that huge tornado coming?
Speaking of tornadoes, if you set a story in the Midwest in the spring, you might want to consider this. A perfect March and April? Just doesn’t happen here. Summers are hot and humid; winters tend toward cold, damp, and blustery.
The weather affects your characters. What they wear will depend on it. They’ll probably check the radar before they decide to drive up to the hunting cabin. You can build the weather into your conflict. Maybe brothers Randy and Art have been circling around an issue for a long time. A snowstorm strands them in the cabin for a few days? Perfect time for a confrontation!
Distance and transportation
Distances have to make sense. In Danse Macabre, Stephen King pointed out one of his own mistakes, something he did in his novel ‘Salem’s Lot. He said he had Ben and Susan hop in the car and go to a film in a particular real-life location, coming back that same night. From where he had located his fictional town, they would have had a three-hour drive one way.
Many smaller U.S. cities don’t have great public transport either. A poverty-stricken character won’t have a car; you’ll have to work out the logistics of where she works (if she’s working) and how she gets there. Her finances will affect her transport issues, which will affect how far she can go from home.
Things to do
Where would your characters go for an evening out? If you put them in Freeport, Kansas (population 5), they’re not likely to find the opportunity to glam up for a theater date downtown. Characters who grew up in a cosmopolitan area of London probably never learned how to feed chickens.
You’ve got the basis for a fish-out-of-water story if you want to move a Londoner to Freeport.
If you’re going to make up a place, you’ll still have to consider these elements and more. Layout, neighborhoods, proximity to other locations–all will have to be solid in your head so that when you move people around, you’ll avoid putting them in impossible positions.
Get your geography sorted so your characters can stretch their legs.