The importance of setting cannot be downplayed. Time and place determine what and how the characters say, do and think. Clothing worn, food eaten and language spoken are all determined by setting.
Naomi Novik’s novel Uprooted is an excellent example. Her story takes place in a fantasy world filled with magic, terrifying creatures and heroes who face inhuman odds. Told like a fairy tale, the story pulls the reader into the enchanted Wood, in and out of villages, over mountain and along a river. It is rich in detail, a three-dimensional world of grace and horror.
Even though your story might not be fantasy, you settling must be equally detailed. The reader must see the sights, experience the events and feel the emotions that the characters share.
Before you write your next story, open a new document and map it out. Name streets, cities, waterways and businesses. Flesh out your characters by giving them unique clothing and hair styles. Write sample dialogue for each to establish speech patterns. Think about personality and how each character reacts when happy, sad and depressed.
Your task is to design the setting for a story you have in mind. Chart it out. It might take only a few minutes or maybe a couple of hours, but do it anyway. Make a list for each character. Establish place and time with so much detail that an artist could paint the scene.
Only then do you let your characters tell their story.