Do you know where you are?
There is, of course, the whole question of whether you are always fictionalizing a place when you sit down to write about it. I have read stories set in places I know fairly intimately and found them unrecognizable. “That’s not the place I knew,” I think. And of course, it is not, because the place I knew is fairly unique to me and my own perspective. As a sociologist, I’d go so far as to ask whether we aren’t all living in fictional places all the time. My own particular experiences of living in Madison and the stories I tell about it are not the same as my neighbor’s. Which is the real Madison?
The downside of being god
It makes sense, then, to borrow heavily from the idiosyncratic details of a real place. The railroad bridge and the strange way the road curves through a town you’ve driven through. The view of the Ohio River from a particular hilltop. The unique feel of a Mississippi crossroads town. The particular sensations of standing out on an English moor. Building on these kinds of details from real places helps create a believable story.
There’s no escape
Also, eventually, you can draw cool maps like the ones above, which are of the fictional places of Yoknapatawpha County and Port William.