I have been thinking for a long time about places and atmospheres (or moods) in writing. I decided to look up the official definition, since it is always important to know:
a specific area or region of the world : a particular city, country, etc.
Here is the definition for atmosphere:
the air of a locality.
or, even better,
the overall aesthetic effect of a work of art.
I have written many short stories over the years, and most of them, instead of being centered on characters and their trials and tribulations, are actually centered on the overall mood of the place the story takes place in. There may be a few exceptions, such as in the next Western I’m writing, which was inspired by a Keith Urban song. However, in general, I am primarily inspired by dark and dreary swamps, thick, tropical forests, the urban Gothic styles of the 1800’s, or the limitless expanse of the unforgiving American West. There is something unbeatably unique and powerful about locations such as those.
Places and atmospheres are usually inseparable. You cannot have much of an atmosphere without a location, and, conversely, if you have a location with no atmosphere, your book will suck. You may think that a book in 1950’s suburbia has no atmosphere, which is almost true, but it only takes a gruesome plot twist for everything to change in that department. 😉
Everyone is inspired by something different. Personally, I am normally drawn to either true or partially-fictional locales in America. Canada also captivates me, additionally, with its cold and unforgiving wilderness.
Also, our heads can have us thinking about completely alien places that only exist in the confines our imagination. Just for a minute, picture a storm on a planet millions of light years away. Now, picture another planet with an opposite climate and temperature. Although those places do not exist, to you they are just as real as the room you are sitting in.
It’s important to really have the place be its own character. It should have its own agenda and temper. Whether a beautiful section of countryside in Tennessee, or the frozen Arctic, your setting should really follow its own rules and affect your characters directly.
You can center a whole book around an atmosphere. Film noir. Westerns. Horror.
One final warning- try not to be cheesy or copy other people exactly. Aside from the finished product possibly being more mundane, you might run out of inspiration halfway through.
Those are my thoughts on places and atmospheres. Follow what captivates you and your readers will enjoy it.
Have a nice day!