A good setting can be hard to build. Some think the world of fantasy is easier to work in as you can make everything up. But such a fantastical world still needs to make sense, not to mention the fact that if there are books later, expect to go back through what you wrote earlier in order to make sure it is all the same (or pray that you haven’t lost your notes on it).
Writing in the “real world” is perhaps a bit easier. Streets, landmarks, even the local gas station is already there, all you need to do is change names to “protect the innocent”. There is no lee-way here though either. If Avenue A has been under construction in the time period you are writing your story in, expect to have readers dive-bomb you if you make Avenue A easy to drive around on and wide open with four lanes of traffic.
This is where research is your friend.
Learn all that you can about a place before you start writing your story in it. Have a map open on the background of your computer of the important streets and locations that you can refer to when your main character is chasing after the man who just robbed him (or is running away from the cops). It’s a bonus if you have lived there for any length of time and have walked the streets. The added realism truly helps to bring the reader closer to believing that what they are reading is real.
If you can’t live there, visit the city of your choice at least once to experience it. And, if that’s not possible, build a network of people who live there that you can call and ask them “Hey, can you drive past here today and tell me what you see?”
The Dexter novels by Jeff Lindsay are really wonderful examples of this. The world is fleshed out, the setting of Miami remaining as close to possible to the “real world” during writing. Current events are mentioned in the books, including the effects of the economic downturn, wars, crimes, even the daily flow of traffic from Miami to the Keys. Boating marinas, islands, and, in the newest book Double Dexter, the local “color” as seen in the form of sharks and people, are all included. This well-rounded environment is a world that is believable even in its fiction.
Look around you. You have a setting that you know well right there. Try writing a few hundred words describing that place to get a feel for setting creation. And if it’s a fantasy world you want to write…well… Go get out your D&D books and plan a “game”. By the end of that, you’ll have a fully fleshed out setting that you can steal pieces and parts from to create something you and your readers will enjoy.
For more information on setting creation, check out these links: