You've got awesome, believable characters. You've got a plot so complicated and intriguing that even you get caught up in the story. Your dialogue is rich and interesting. You've got the story of a lifetime.
And your work's not done. :)
As long as we're in the creative mood, let's keep it going. Next up on our list: the setting.
Where are we?
The setting is not only the place we're in, but also the time. We have six thousand years of history to choose from, and a limitless array of futuristic possibilities. From B.C. To the middle ages, the civil war to the 90's, from present time to a hundred years in the future, our options are seemingly limitless.
Choosing the Perfect Time
Sometimes it comes along with the story. If your book is about the underground railroad, then yes, it's obviously in the 1800's. If it's about a Roman soldier at the crucifixion, it's obviously the first century. The exact year and month and date will come based on research and common sense.
Sometimes it isn't so obvious. Sometimes you're just writing a good love story that could have happened anywhere, at any time. That's where the setting itself comes in. Close your eyes and picture your novel, as if it were a movie. What do you see? What do you not see? Are there smartphones? Flying cars? Chariots? Stagecoaches? Once you've determined the time, then you can work on the setting.
Describing the Setting
Once you've figured out where you are – time, location – then you can work on describing it. The only way to effectively describe the location is to be in the situation. If you set your book in your hometown, you might be able to go there, or you at least have personal experience to go on. If your book is set in the first century, that will be a little harder to achieve.
When I wrote "The Hidden Soul", I found the setting to be a little different from my previous experiences. This was the first historical piece I had attempted, so not being able to go there (or at least drive the roads on Google Maps) proved to be a bit challenging. I had to place myself in a time and place I had never seen, and knew pretty much nothing about.
So, I used my resources:
Search Engines: As I wrote, little details came up that I had to search for. Images came in handy when I was searching for Antonia Fortress, and searching online when figuring out where exactly Golgotha was located. I gathered a great deal of information simply by googling the questions I had.
Movies and books: This might or might not apply to your story, but with the millions of other stories that have been written, you're likely to find something similar to yours (or at least set in the same place/time). Movies and other works of fiction can provide valuable insight from others who might have had more knowledge than you do.
There are a few side notes to this though. This method should only be used for descriptions of the setting and time, to gain insights of the locations, cultures, and overall factual knowledge of that day. It is only safe to go with this type of resource if you already have solid characters and a defined plot line already. Otherwise. You run the risk of plagiarizing.
If you do have your characters and plot already mapped out, and are using this method strictly for informational purposes, there is one other thing you must be careful of: Hollywood license. I was discouraged when I found out that a lot of details and characteristics depicted in most Roman movies and books was all exaggerated or completely made-up. You have to be careful not to use Hollywood license (or if necessary, very slight or subtle changes), so as not to make your story sound phony.
I'll give you an example. In first century Rome, it is depicted that the 'Roman salute' consisted of the soldier putting a clenched fist to his chest. That was completely made up and has no historical proof to it. It's a Hollywood license thing, so I avoided it.
Now, if you felt it necessary (and you'd better be sure it is necessary), then describing that in your story won't render it historically inaccurate. I don't recommend it (I prefer my stories to be as accurate as possible), and I advise that you do something like that with extreme caution, and that you be doubly sure the rest of your story is true, so you don't lose credibility in the eyes of your readers.
Online groups/Forums: This is one I recently discovered, and it can be a priceless asset when trying to depict a time or place. I joined an online forum that was strictly about first century Rome, and was able to ask the questions that Google couldn't answer. I was able to read through pages of facts and figures, and gain the most valuable information that helped to shape my book. If your book is set in San Francisco, join a forum about the area. If your book is set in the 1800's, join a group about that era.
The main goal when setting your story is to make it as real and authentic as possible. There are endless resources available to help you with that, but in the end, it all falls on you. You are the only one who can take the information you've gathered and make it come alive. You're the only one who can breathe life into a setting, and you have to draw the reader in with you.
In order to take the reader on the journey you are designing, you first have to travel there. Whether you do it physically, or whether your traveling is done only in your imagination, you as the writer are responsible for bringing the reader to your world. Even if it's a real place, a real time, and a real event, the world that is portrayed in the book is created by you.
And for a moment, you're holding the world in your hands.