How important are settings to you? Do you revisit one location over and over again?
I do. I always write about California, particularly southern California. I write in a genre that doesn't often have stories which take place in the Golden State. I think it adds uniqueness to my writing. I like the myriad of environments offered in the states and the different cultures which make their presence known. But the biggest reason I write about California is simply because I live here.
Research is easier. I do quite a bit of research, I've got Google maps going while I'm writing so I can make sure the path my character is taking jives with the city streets. And I research neighborhoods and houses to get a better feel for my specific scenes. But I don't need to research the basic essence of my setting. I know what kind of people I'm going to see on the street because I see them everyday. I know what the weather is going to be, I know when traffic is going to be an issue,and I how long its going to take to get from one place to the next. I try to use my own observations and experiences to add a depth to my setting which will pull my reader in further.
I admire other authors who do this. Stephen King's Maine is very visible to me. Charlaine Harris brings me to the South with her writing. I can peg where Dean Koontz has set his stories. There are a lot of other authors I could name who just do wonders with settings. I can feel that they have been there. So it kills me when the feeling doesn't come through. I read one series where the story took place in a fictional California coastal town. But the author was off. I don't mind mythical and created, I create my own suburbs. I'm not looking for complete accuracy, but I am looking for the little things a writer should know about a setting which would carry the reader away. There was nothing really out there is the books which screamed inaccuracy, but the writer missed the nuances. It was like they'd watched a t.v. show and took their cues from there.
I do think there are authors who do write about places they've never been and can do it well. Historical authors are particularly talented in this arena, but they research like crazy. They don't assume. And their setting is important to their stories so they do spend a lot of time making it as right as they can.
For me, I'm not confident enough to venture into a contemporary setting I've never been to. I could make it technically correct, but I couldn't capture the essence or the rhythm of an area enough to make it feel real to my readers.
What about you? Are you sensitive to settings? Are you brave enough to place your stories in places you've never been before?