When I write, I’m creating worlds for my characters to live and grow in. A place where they live, learn, love, and die, perhaps. Even if the story is set in a city or neighborhood I lived in, I add my own twist to it, marking it as my creation.
For modern settings, I learn what I can about an area by using the internet. Everything you need to know about a city, town, or village can be found here. This includes maps, so you can accurately describe a chase scene, and the types of buildings found in the area. There are house plans you can study to make a homeless for your character or an office building owned by a power-hungry group of criminals. Maybe your main character owns a used bookstore or has a favorite restaurant they frequent. Find what you need on the internet, make a few changes and it now fits your story. My current work in progress is set in the neighborhood I lived in for 48 years. I knew the city like the back of my hand, seeing the changes that occurred over the years. Another part of the story takes place in two areas I’ve never visited, so I turned to the internet to learn what I needed, printing out maps of the areas, checking business directories to discover what stores and hotels are in the area.
Maybe your story is set in a different country. Once again, the internet is your best friend for researching the area. The library can help as well, with travel guides for the country. Heck, if you need basic information, go to the children’s section of the library for the books you need.
If you set your story in a historical period of time, hit the library, study atlases of world history so you have a good idea of how countries were divided back then. Read history books for that time period. Learn about the rulers and the powers behind those rulers. Another thing to keep in mind is religious beliefs, since religion played an important part in people’s lives and the political landscape. If this is your first foray into writing historical fiction, read historical novels to see how the author did it.