Do you know where your characters are and where they need to go? How long does it take them to travel from location to location? Do they need to take a train? An elevator? The stairs? Knowing these details helps you keep their reality in tact for them, for you, and for an audience.
The other day as I watched a TV show that only lasted six episodes, I wondered if part of the problem for the short-lived series was its distorted sense of place. Two characters left a state prison, arguing as they walked to her car. The fellow was so upset that he decided to walk back to the city's law firm. Walk? From the state pen? Which seemed to be perched in the middle of nowhere....
Not only did it take me out of the story, but it distracted me throughout the rest of the episode. Every time anyone traveled anywhere, I questioned where they began from and how they arrived to their destination so quickly.
For one of my sci fi stories I began with a hand-scrawled wall mural of the planets and galaxies included in my characters' universe, including light and heating sources, and how far each was located from the other. It was a required step as I penned the script; well, required if I wanted to maintain a legitimacy to the rules of the universe I was creating and establishing.
Now, as I pen episodes and a show bible for a spec series I'm working on, I realize that not only is the sense of place important to keeping it real for my characters, but also to help other writers and creative artists on the series get a sense of what the characters face each time they step out on the town or shuffle through their own homes.
Which is why yesterday I sat down with an artist and gave him my quickly scrawled (and probably difficult to comprehend) sketches of some of the places in the story. Hopefully he can picture where my characters are...and help me convey that sense of place to my creative team.