By this point, you should have your characters, or at least have thought about them enough that you think you know what kind of people they are going to be. Chances are, this has also led you into thoughts on how they are going to fit into your story, and what type of world they are going to be living in.
Is there magic?
Are there dragons?
Does anyone ever leave the coffee shop that the two characters have met in?
These are just a few of the questions you’ll find yourself asking as you being to create your setting. I have gone over a bit about setting before during Dexter Week (Read it here), but this will be focused more on how you create one than how to decide where it’s going to be.
The first step is to decide if this is going to take place in a fantastical world of make-believe or in our real world, or some combination of the two. Each of them has their own pros and cons. A fantastical world frees you of limitations that our world has, such as gravity, or gaining faster-than-light space travel to go to other planets. The problem comes when it starts getting too out there, and your reader will have a hard time getting into the book because they will constantly be reminded of just how far away they are from home they are unless you give them concrete things to hold onto.
A great example of these fantastical worlds are found in Lord of the Rings and Chasm City. In these worlds, humans are the standards, an object of familiarity that we can hold onto. In Lord of the Rings, we are also slowly introduced to the more fantastical aspects, which makes them easier to swallow and gain understanding of before moving to the next.
Having a setting take place in our world means that you don’t need to worry about the audience connecting with it. They know our world, the rules therein, and how they would expect people to react within certain situations. The cons are appearing for that same reason: the world is known and you can not stray from it lest people stop to believe, or get angry about details that you forgot or are untrue. It’s reasons like this that people who write historical fiction with years of research behind it are truly some of the best authors in my mind. They can keep track of so many different aspects at once.
The final choice, having a fantastical normal world, is one that more and more authors are going down. Just look at the amount of books that are appearing in the “urban fiction” settings at the local bookstore. The pros and cons here are mixed. Yes, you can have a pre-made setting that you find out of the books on a city, but you also make it yours by twisting a few things around in it. Care still needs to be cautioned though so that you don’t make it too fantastical and risk alienating your audience by taking it too far away from reality.
So, make your choice. What is your setting?
Once this has been decided, you can start to create your world: make cities, villages. In gaming terms, create some NPCs to populate your world that your characters can interact with on their quest for something. Maybe there’s some strange quirk about this world (man eating Fog is one quirk I’ve been kicking around for a while) that is a fact of life for everyone. Perhaps the people of one city live their lives backwards, or can only speak in rhyme.
Whatever your setting is, flesh it out! Build a world as if you were the god of it, create, create, create! You can always edit things out later, but why limit yourself at the beginning!? You never know what you might come up with that will fuel another story.
ETA: Featured on Writers Weekly on October 13th, 2011. http://paper.li/paultlowe/1307471907