Setting development is nearly as important to me as character development. I love adding the nuances of a place—the smells and sights, the overall feel. Even if my reader has never been to the specific place or one like it, I want to evoke a familiar feeling or memory they can draw on. It doesn’t matter to me if they see it exactly the way I do, but I want their own interpretation to be vivid.
My stories are set in the ‘real’ world and I make use of actual places, but also the stereotypical—based on real places. Sometimes I use a combination. I usually draw from places I have personally been. For instance, I set Portrait of a Girl RUNNING in an actual place on Long Island—I used my hometown because I could write about it believably. Problem is, my hometown happens to be Amityville. Will anyone be able to use that village in a work of fiction after the debacle Amityville Horror? Alas, I renamed it, Millville. Probably just as well. Yet in the sequel, Portrait of a Protégé, I use real places in New Hampshire’s Sunapee Lakes Region. However, in Story for a Shipwright, I use a composite of stereotypical coastal villages that easily conjure a sense of place in the mind of anyone even remotely acquainted with Maine—I call the fictitious place Wesleyville, named for the protagonist's family.
I think probably the important thing in choosing a name for a fictitious town in an otherwise real setting is to be sure no actual town by that name exists. What other considerations do you give to naming a place?
I wonder how many of you set your stories in places where you grew up—and even for those who write fantasy, do the places you fabricate originate in some place you’ve been in real life? When you’re reading, how much detail is necessary for you to visualize the setting?