I, the writer, have a fantastic plot where. . . . Now I have to choose a setting for the story. The plot will work in any city with an European base culture. Thus I can chose a city anywhere in Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia and some South American cities such as Buenos Aries.
How about Paris? Historic, scenic, romantic Paris. Of course my hero will have to speak French and I don’t know any French. It would be nice to move the action through the real streets of Paris, but I don’t know the layout without looking at a map. To be honest, the only two times I was in Paris, I spent a few hours at the airport between fights. Why, I know my home town better than I know Paris. Perhaps I could write about what my hero and heroine could do in my home town.
No wonder writers are advised to write what they know. If I were to make Paris the setting of my story, I would have to do extensive research before I even start. On the other hand, I know my home town on the basis of personal experience.
Because I write fiction, my word picture of my home town does not have to be accurate, but it is easier to write about an existing location than to completely fabricate it. To be truthful, I do change streets, add and delete buildings, and use fictitious stores, but there are advantages to being close to factual in the setting. For example, if a writer has his hero walk two blocks west on 42nd Street to 5th Avenue, many readers will know exactly what the hero is doing because millions of people, including myself have walked those two blocks. These readers will not be surprised when the hero enters the public library because they know it is on the southwest corner of 5th Avenue and 42nd Street.
Because this is fiction, the writer can have the hero plunge into a swimming pool at that location, but the story will be better if the writer does something with respect to the library. To the extent that readers know the geography of a setting, they appreciate realism, even in fiction. Thus many of our stories are sited in a location the writer knows well, such as his or her home town. This may be the location where the writer grew up, or the location where they now live. Either way, the book is better because the author is writing what about what they know.
An example of a contemporary writer who set her novel in her home town is Gerry McCullogh. She is an Irish writer whose novel The Belfast Girls takes place in Belfast, Ireland. She is very familiar with Ireland. She grew up there and still lives there. She makes good use of geographic detail in her book and also is able to capture some of the emotional and psychological landscape of this city full of anger and conflict. Perhaps because she grew up listening to Irish people and talking the dialect itself, the dialogue is written in the lilting rhythm of Irish speech and with slang specific to Ireland.
Her website is