Hello, beautiful people. As a follow up to Kieryn's post, I'm also doing a post on setting, but I will be using the little beach town I go on vacation to every summer.
Think about it. What makes a place real? What are the things that identify where you are? They aren't singular characteristics. I know I'm nearing the beach when we are sitting bumper to bumper on the Bay Bridge and I can see the little white specks of sailboats bobbing against the slate of the Chesapeake Bay. As we get closer to the shore, I spot seagulls circling overhead and soon after that, sandy groups of people toting surf boards, folding chairs, frisbees, coolers and every beach related thing you could possibly think of.
Smaller beach towns do have a number of year-round residents, but many of the people you see there are vacationing. This means that there will probably a main street lined with a good number of shops. Junk shops, clothing stores, family restaurants, a penny arcade--these are all common in towns like the one I spend a week in every summer. In the evening, the vacationers come out to pay a visit to one of many ice cream shops, or lounge in the air-conditioned arcade playing wack-a-gator and lucky ducks. The knick-knack shops (home to painted seashells, wind chimes, wooden signs, key chains, fake vomit, flip-flops, watches, and stuffed dogs that move and bark) are usually full to bursting with ice cream splattered children and their bedraggled parents.
Most beach towns, in addition to this sort of main centre, also have a boardwalk of some sort. In the town I visit, the boardwalk is pretty small, but has many more stores (mostly selling beach related items) and food stands. In some places, there might be a band shell where musicians perform in the evening. Boardwalks sometimes even have little hoses so that people can rinse off sand as they come up from the beach. Also, most beaches have a closing time, say, 9:00 at night or so. Don't ask me how I know that.
The rest of the town is usually made up of adorable, pastel beach houses. Some grand and showy, others cozy and cottage like. Most will have screened porches, decks, or balconies, and often, the houses are raise up off the ground and cars are parked underneath. The air in the entire town feels sort of wet, but light at the same time, and sometimes, when it's windy, you can smell salt. Sand is everywhere. The bottoms of shoes. The roads. The houses. Behind ears. Between teeth. It invades the entire town.
The beach itself is probably something you can easily describe, so my suggestion would be to think about what the beach is like at different times of the day. Early in the morning-- foggy, gray, the sand cut by the tracks of the trucks that smooth it over each night. Or at noon--when the sand burns the soles of your feet, the sun hits the water in that way that makes it look like stained glass, and the beach is crammed with umbrellas and towels and tents and people smeared with sunscreen. Or in the evening--when it's windier, the sky looks purple, and the beach is empty of people.
If you can't tell, I really want to be at the beach. But I'm not, so my setting advice is to focus on using a variety of sensory detail and to research the place you have chosen to set your story (know how the town would be designed, who would live there, what kind of housing would be available etc.).
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