Natalie Bahm's posts from a little over a week ago got me thinking about settings and the proverbial hoops we as writers jump through to put them together. The discussion proved interesting to say the least, and sparked the realization that setting is really, really difficult.
With imaginary settings, you have the freedom of molding the set to suit the story. Fantasy and sci-fi presents the unique problem of having to describe every detail you can to craft an effective backdrop for the story. Type of building, age of building, big city or small town, rural or urban, the natural world, the unnatural world -- these are just a few of the things you have to worry about as a creator of an imaginary place.
Now, setting your tale in a real place has an added dimension of making sure you get everything right. What's this mean for the writer? You can't place your MC's house in the middle of an intersection for example; and you also can't place the library clear across town from where it actually is. The burden of mapping out the city accurately is intense on the writer setting their tale in a real place.
Which, incidentally, is one of the bigger reasons that I prefer to not set any stories in real places. I'll choose a random place in the middle of a state somewhere -- generally where I know there's not an actual city/town already -- but almost never will you see me writing mainstream fiction that's set in New York City or San Francisco or Chicago. I haven't spent enough time in any of those places to give a story set there the kind of veracity it needs. Would I set a tale in Salem, the city my alma mater is located in and where I lived for a year? Probably. But that all depends on the kind of story it is.