Be an Expert on Your Own Back Yard
Another area where you can be your own expert is where you live. It can be impossible to travel to far-flung locations to do research on a setting for story. You might as well take the cheap route, research your own community, and see if that research spark any ideas.
If you like history, research that aspect of your community. Local libraries are great place to do local research. They often have a local history room with sources you can not find anywhere else. Many communities have their own historical societies. Check out their resources. Both libraries and historical societies may offer free programs on local history. I have learned a lot about my town from attending programs at my library. Reading through old local newspapers, which a library should have, can also stir interest.
But if history doesn’t spark any ideas, get to know your community as it is now. Just driving around with your powers of observation turned to full strength will help you discover unique aspects. Where I live, out in the country, there are a lot of quarries, some abandoned. I got to visit an abandoned one. Because of the digging, the landscape in the quarry is very different from the surrounding one. It’s very stark, even bleak. It would be a good setting in a mystery or a thriller. Or, if you are writing about a character who is an outsider in his or her community, the quarry can serve as a symbol of the character’s differences.
My county has a split personality. It used to be rural with a college town as the county seat. The county seat still has the college, but the southern part is developing into enormous suburbs. The north is still rural with farms and tiny towns. A lot of compelling storytelling can come from creating tension between the two disparate communties.
Even if you live in a big city, like New York or Los Angeles of Chicago, which are often the settings for stories, you can find smaller qualities about it that aren’t well-known. And since you are unique, you can take even well-known parts of city and write about it with your own personal touch.
For another use of historical research, read this article by my friend Sandra Merville Hart.