I have always been partial to anything that is broken-down and decrepit or unusual, because such things always spark a story for me. I can't help but imagine: Who lived there? What went on in that place over the years?
Some people feel that in order for a place in a story to feel authentic, it has to be a very familiar place -- a place the author has experienced in great detail. But I don't necessarily agree. We can add details in a such a way that it becomes real and familiar.
And I think that setting is very subjective. We experience setting in the same way that we experience people. We all see and notice different details around us. Think about giving someone directions, for example. Some of us will deliver what I call the MapQuest version, using strictly mileage and left and right turns, while most of my writer and illustrator friends will use color, shape, and landmarks.
The details of settings add emotion to the story, because we can actually have strong emotional reactions to places, especially when we have our own history there. Certain elements may spark vivid memories, both good and not so wonderful--your childhood home, for example.
The setting is the holder of the large details, and more importantly, the tiny, sharp details of the character's world. The writer is coloring the picture for the reader. I always hope that my reader will feel as if s/he is eavesdropping -- as if s/he is a fly on the wall of the setting. Your unique setting allows the reader to crawl into your story.
My invitation to you writers out there: Notice a detail of a place as you are out driving or walking. It stands out to you in some way, but you may have no idea how or why this is. You do know that you can completely picture your character there. Write it. Do it now. See where it takes you...
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