I never used to have much time for settings in my writing. I viewed them as something which had to be laboriously invented, laboriously researched, and/or laboriously described. The characters and the themes were what excited me, and I remember feeling that setting was a mere inconvenience to storytelling!
However, it occurred to me recently how untrue that is, even in my past writing. The first story I managed to complete was largely inspired by the setting, and it went on from there – steps winding up to first-story flat by the sea; a busy road, across which was a small wooded area. All I really did was to throw my granddad’s cat into that setting, and the scenario which developed became my story. In real life the cat walked up the steps and came across another cat. In my story they had a fight, then became friends. I imagined the creatures that might live in the wooded areas and the cats befriending an owl.
The setting wasn’t the only thing that inspired the story, but perhaps it was what helped me to develop my ideas into something which I could finish. It was like a fluid conversation between reality and fiction. It gave my story grounding.
Looking back, it tends to be my stories which are set in real locations that have worked the best. I can be completely absorbed in the scenario and not have to worry about inventing something that feels realistic. Setting can inspire you in ways you didn’t imagine and the observations can cause your story to take a completely different direction. What would your character feel in that place? What sort of person might live there? Who might they meet? What might they notice?
So I have been converted to the value of setting. Perhaps it’s to do with the inspiration it provides. Perhaps I’m more comfortable with one aspect of my fiction being completely real. Or perhaps I just like it that I can choose a location, go there to drink coffee, scribble on a notebook, people-watch, and call it work!