Setting is so important in a story that it’s often called the “other” character. We also call it world building. We create the world our characters inhabit. When we create that world, we must think logically and base that world on our own. Depending on what genre we write in, the world can be a small town, a metropolis, another planet.
When I write cozy mysteries, I base my fictional resort town on real ones. That’s easy. But what about a setting after an apocalypse? We can only imagine the devastation after, say, a nuclear war. Yet, we have some examples in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. While those cities were hit by atomic bombs, not nuclear, we can use what we’ve seen in pictures and videos. Devastation from natural disasters (fires, mudslides, tornadoes, tsunamis, earthquakes) can also give us vivid images.
But what if we set our stories on another planet? Now, we need to develop a lot more. Climate, geography, history, government. That sounds more like high school classes than writing. LOL However, what we learned in those classes may come in handy.
For my science fiction romances, I created planets with a central government. I could make each planet different from anything we’ve ever seen—even via Hubble or its soon-to-be-launched successor the James Webb telescope.
But if humans are to live on the planet I create, I have to obey certain laws. The humans need a conducive atmosphere. Breathable air, water, and a temperature that isn’t too hot or too cold. What’s called a Goldilocks planet. Earth is just such a Goldilocks planet.
Our research can fill file drawers (or digital files), but while we as writers need to know all this information, and more, our readers don’t. I think of research as an iceberg. What we share with our readers is the tip of the iceberg, while what we know is that vastness below the water’s surface.
Our readers want an enjoyable story with likeable characters. And a strong plot. How my starship gets from one planet to another isn’t as important as the fact that it gets to that other planet. Sort of like my car. I don’t know how it works. But when I get in it and turn the key, I know it’s going to take me to the store or Up North (as we Michiganders call traveling up I-75 toward the Mackinac Bridge).
Enjoy the research. Find out as much as you want about your world. Then carefully, like sprinkles on Christmas cookies, scatter just enough info to make your story interesting.