Selecting the locations around which the narrative will be set (hence the “setting” of the work, as it is sometimes called) will help provide a visual feel to your outline. By picturing your characters in these locations, you will start to get a feel for the frames in which to describe them (see also the later section on Framing), where you might need to go to collect reference material to provide more granular descriptions (see also the later section on Choosing Material), and what point of view would best suit the portrayal of those visual and environmental elements in the narrative (see also the later section on Developing a Point of View).
In many ways, locations provide architectural elements in the realisation of the story. They are fixed in space, change slowly over time, and bring with them large chunks of (usually) familiar reality. Sometimes a location will be pressed into the role of a character, and sometimes a major character. This is when the location imposes itself upon the unfolding of the story and affects the way the other characters behave. Often, it’s the climate or the topology of the location that does this, but it can equally be the culture, language, or population density.
The locations you choose can be as vague as “the jungle” or “in Europe” or “on a distant planet”, or as specific as “the corner of Castlereagh Street and Martin Place”. How specific you need to be in the selection of a location will depend on a couple of things:
- The Story – The story will sometimes need you to pinpoint a location because there’s something particular about that location–a building, a river, a magnetic field, an ancient Egyptian tomb–that is required by the plot.
- Brevity – It takes much less space to construct a vivid picture of a place if the reader already has a good idea of how it looks.
- Assumed Knowledge – Often working against the requirements of the story is how much you can assume the reader knows about the location. You can be very specific about an obscure location, but it won’t help the reader place or visualise what you want them to see there. Assumed reader knowledge is a function of two main factors:
- Notoriety of the place – Most readers will have a good idea of how the Eiffel Tower and Mount Fuji look, but might struggle to picture Budapest’s Heroes’ Square or Hobart’s Mount Wellington.
- Breadth of readership – If your work is likely to be read internationally, then you could expect only the most well-known of global landmarks to be recognised.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with being very specific in your locations when there’s no need to be specific. Perhaps you enjoy the sense of recognition in reading about your characters in places you know well. Writers have psychological needs too, so pinpoint your places if it seems right to you.
Here are a few aspects of location which, if relevant to the narrative, you might want to consider describing at the outline stage:
- Physical Geography – You could show the layout, topology, land use and visible features of the location.
- Climate – Descriptions of climate might focus on the variability, extremes and periodicity of the seasonal weather.
- History – Without resorting to a detailed historical treatise, you could focus on such characteristics as the origins of the place, the time taken to change to its present disposition, and the level of violence required to make the change.
- Language – Describing the language of a place includes accents, slang, and the extent to which the characters can penetrate its nuances (William G Golding once wrote, “Nothing is so impenetrable as laughter in a language you don’t understand.”)
 Golding, William G. An Egyptian Journal. London: Faber & Faber, 1985.