Good stories consist of more than just great characters and exciting plots. In fact, “where” a story happens is just as important as the “what” or “why.” So when you’re sitting down to write, give some serious thought to the setting – and then figure how that setting enhances your story.
We’re all products of our environments to one degree or another. Same goes for fictional characters. And while real people don’t always choose their environments, writers have more creative freedom. The setting in which a writer places his characters will have a significant impact in not only how those characters see themselves, but also how those characters see the rest of the world. In addition, the setting of a story will have an impact on how the reader perceives those characters.
Does your story take place in a small town? Why? How does that town affect your protagonist? How do you think readers will respond? If you opt for a big city setting, consider how that environment might change your protagonist as well as your reader’s perception of that character.
Setting is also a great tool for adding tension and context to scenes. Consider this: a husband and wife are in their bedroom when he confesses to having an affair. Now put the couple in a mall food court. Now make the setting a daycare. How about putting them at the Christmas dinner table with all the relatives around? The setting you choose will have a dramatic effect on how this couple reacts to one another – and how the reader reacts to the scene.
Bottom line – don't underestimate the power of a good setting. Ask how your setting serves your story or scene. Then, once you’ve got a sense of place locked down, you can begin creating your believable fictional world.