Setting is the most important part of a story’s plot because, without it, your characters are nowhere. Picture actors in front of a green screen and there’s your story. There’s nothing for the characters to react to, which makes it hard for the reader to relate to the story. Sometimes a plot depends on a person climbing to the top of either a tall hill or a mountain and seeing the approaching enemy in the distance. Or maybe he is up a tall tree and sees the way out. Either scene would only make sense if the setting were right.
Set a story on a flat treeless plain and they can’t climb anything, unless you strew boulders around. The setting places the story in a reality. Characters can’t hide from the villain in a cave if there are no rock formations to create the caves. Similarly, the villain can’t ambush the hero if there is no cover. He needs rocks and trees, alleyways or store counters and shelves. Where you place your story, will dictate how your characters react.
Weather is the forgotten part of setting. In the real world, it rains, snows and sleets. There’s wind and warm sunshine and droughts. That should be the case in fiction as well. You have to be careful though. Climate goes hand in glove with weather. After all, there are few snowstorms in deserts. You can have a torrential downpour, depending on the desert, but they are not usually common. You also don’t get much snow in the tropics and palm trees don’t grow in temperate zones.
I find it best to research an area of Earth where you are going to set your story. It doesn’t have to be a real place in the story, but if based on a real location, it will be that much more believable. That way you can visualize the mountains, forests, lakes, rivers and oceans that dot your landscape. They must be believable for your setting to work. Any city can provide an urban setting for your story, all you have to do is see them in your mind, and the setting is good. I like to sit down and describe each setting in each scene, especially if I am stuck writing it. If the hero is sitting in a dingy office, I sit and try to imagine what makes the office dingy. Or maybe he has a large, spacious corner office in an office tower. What could he see outside his window, if he bothered to look? Is it raining? Is he having trouble seeing the screen of his computer because of the glare of the sun? Details like these are key to making the story believable.
Setting is the most import part of the plot because it can enhance the experience for the reader. After all, that is the goal of every fiction writer, to make the reader forget where he/she is and just immerse him/herself in the story. A good setting will do that.