“Place is important to my writing, and one of my best practices is to get in the car and drive. Images from those drives—a janitor in a lighted skyway at night, two cop cars in an empty parking lot, a woman dressed for the office waiting at a bus stop in Frogtown—inspire scenes and form the whole tactile underpinning of a piece. When I wanted to set part of my novel in small-town Minnesota, I got out a map, picked an area that looked like it had interesting landscape, and spent a day driving around that particular county, taking notes on what was being farmed, the kinds of trees, church architecture, area businesses, how long it took to drive from one town to another. A whole section of the book grew out of that day’s drive.”*
—John Reimringer, author of Vestments (Milkweed Editions, 2010)
Good advice from a writer who, from what I've read, carefully crafts his descriptions of landscape in his debut novel. I've only dipped in and out of Vestments, but I hope to take the full plunge later this winter.
While some might argue that to truly inject a sense of place in your fiction you need to spend more time than a drive-by allows. But I believe if, like Reimringer did, you take careful notes and drink as deeply as you can from the geography, then at least a small amount of authenticity will leak out into your words. I needn't have lived in Antarctica my whole life to convince you of my polar residency (as Kevin Brockmeier so skillfully did in The Brief History of the Dead). My words should be enough to assure you I know what frostbite feels like.
*Courtesy of Poets & Writers website