I usually ignore the piece of writing advice that says 'write what you know'. For one thing, it wouldn't take very long for me to write what I know, and no one would ever want to read it anyway.
Wait a minute. My town has a great east coast atmosphere.
It suddenly made perfect sense to set my tales in Newfoundland. I know this place so well. Of all the places I've been, there is no place more eerie, romantic, rugged, colourful, or beautiful than this province.
So I've decided that my current WIP should take place right here. But in order to really get the full flavour of the location, I have to say more than "They lived in Tiny Harbour, Newfoundland".
This is the fun part, describing the sights, sounds, and smells of an outport community. Jewel coloured houses scattered along the shore. The salty sting of the wind off the water. The cry of the gulls circling over the harbour. But more than this, the reader should know about all the little quirks and idiosyncrasies of the place. These details make the setting come alive.
As a reader, I want the author to take me away, make me feel like I'm in that place watching the story unfold. I've read stories, good ones, that have left the setting in the background, but the stories I remember are the ones that surround me with mountains, or streets, or fields. Lucy Maude Montgomery has transported generations of readers to Prince Edward Island. J. R. R. Tolkien did the same with his fictional Shire.
When it comes right down to it, i want my cowboy to ride off into a real sunset, not one of those painted backdrops.
Tell me about your favorite setting - the good ones you've read or the ones you like to write.