When writing a novel, character and plot are arguably the two most important ingredients. But setting comes a very close third.
Actually, a strong setting in a novel should almost be like a character in its own right - the reader should be able to feel its heart beat.
And it is no coincidence, therefore, that the best way to construct a fictional setting is in exactly the same way that you would build the story's characters...
Dumb question, right? Well, not if you believe that a novel's setting consists entirely of streets and buildings and rooms within buildings. It actually encompasses so much more than that, and you will need to evoke all of these things through rich, descriptive language if you truly want your novel to have atmosphere.
Is it best to set your novel in a real place or a fictional one? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach? The short answer is that both types of settings are okay. And it is even possible (maybe even preferable) to blend the two and use both fictional and real places in your writing.
Some commentators argue that setting is more important in some novels than others. I would disagree. Whether you set your fiction somewhere awe inspiring or somewhere more humdrum, the setting still needs to be brought to life. If it doesn't move you, the writer, you can't expect your description of the story's location to move the reader.
And now for the main event: the two-part guide to building settings. In this first step, you will learn how to flesh out the setting on paper so that you know it as well as you know your own hometown.
And in part two, you will learn how to take all of these facts and impressions and incorporate them into your story gradually and in the right order, so that the readers can get to know the setting as well as you now do.
"Every description of place should have a memorable quality that hints at the story's meaning. Otherwise, you're just filling up space."
- Monica Wood