Wednesday, May 28, 2014

What if . . . ? The Beach Version

In last week's Motivational Monday post, I mentioned taking a blogging break with the goal of actually starting one of my many projects, one of which was being a tourist in my own town. So, last Friday, my husband and I had breakfast down at the beach then went for a nice, long walk before the heat and the crowds rushed in.

I love walking on the beach for many reasons but one of my favorites is the sheer amount of things to see and people to watch. It is an ever changing landscape of nature, of humanity, and it is an amazing opportunity for creative exercises and story ideas. Here's a few scenarios that sparked my imagination: 

* In the parking lot, two elderly men in matching t-shirts, carried marked sticks with fluttering tape, the kind that mark where sea turtles came onshore and laid their eggs. Hmm…were these mean really volunteers for the local aquarium? What if they were trying to impress some ladies and knew they were too old to pass for lifeguards? What happened to the turtle's eggs? Did they hatch? Were they eaten by animals? Stolen by humans? Part of some sick scavenger hunt?

* A middle-aged couple walk on the beach. The man yaps loudly on a phone while the woman walks quietly next to him. Does she wish he was holding her hand instead of his phone? Are they married? Is this trip a second honeymoon? Is she contemplating divorce as she stares down at the crushed shells beneath her feet? Or…what if they're on a first date? What if he thinks talking on the phone makes him appear more important, more interesting? What if he's only pretending to talk to someone? What if she really is impressed by his antics? 

* Two boys, tan and skinny, about 10 years old, stand in the water up to their hips, fishing lines cast, no adults nearby. Why aren't these boys swimming and splashing and having fun? Why are they so serious? What if the fish they catch will be their food, their families' food, for the day? What if the boys are homeless? What if they plan on cooking the fish over an illegal fire later that night? What if the police who patrol the beach don't turn them in, give them sodas instead? 

Those three examples only focus on people. Think about the wildlife, like pelicans and sandpipers. Think about the shells - broken and whole. Think about the debris that can - and does - wash up on shore. What about a child's yellow plastic sand shovel, bobbing in the surf, its owner long gone? That image can elicit sadness or shudders. (I'm sure you know which of those I'd go with if I was writing a story….)  

What stories do you find at the beach? Or, if you're not a beach person, what do you see in the woods? The mountains? At the neighborhood pool? Do any of the "What if?"'s in this post spark any ideas for you? Go ahead and share in the comments! 

30 comments:

  1. It's amazing how many stories we can find just by observing the world around us - especially at the beach. I like to observe couples holding hands while walking along the shore and make up a story in my mind about them, how they met, etc :)

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    1. Hmm, I wonder what story you'd make up if you saw me and my husband walking hand in hand on the beach…. :)

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  2. I love people watching. I love trying to work out what people are saying to each other - body language can say a lot more than words can. One thing I love doing at the beach is just closing my eyes and listening to the waves breaking.

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    1. You are totally right about body language. And I love the sound of the waves breaking and the way they shoosh over the shells. (Stephen King uses this sound in a totally creepy way in DUMA KEY.)

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  3. What a fun exercise Madeline! I do that all the time without realizing it. Here's hoping you have a rad day!

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    1. I think a lot of us writers do that without realizing it. :)

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  4. I LOVE your what ifs. That's our favorite family game, and when I'm critiquing a work, that's the concept I find myself drawing from most frequently. I sometimes feel guilty about people watching, like maybe I should keep my nose in my own business and let others be--thank you NYC. *sigh*

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    1. Every once in awhile, I find myself being too obvious when watching and/or listening in. Then I have to quickly look away and/or start talking to my husband or on my phone. :)

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  5. I'm not a big beach person but I'm going there this weekend. I'll do some people watching and make up some stories. You inspired me.

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    1. Enjoy your trip! I hope you come home with a tan, some seashells, and lots of story ideas. :)

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  6. I truly enjoy people watching. There are so many stories to each person.

    www.modernworld4.blogspot.com

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  7. There's all sorts of possibilities and scenarios if you open your eyes. Not too obviously, though! Last night, I was hovering in the living room door listening to a conversation between my wife and older stepdaughter. I then went in the kitchen where my younger stepdaughter had seen me and asked why I was eavesdropping. I explained that it was my job and that's where writers get ideas. She didn't buy it and insisted it was wrong. Which it is, I suppose. I think we should be given a licence to be nosy!

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  8. I haven't been to our beach in a while...it's still too cold. But now, I think I need to make a trip. So what if I have to wear a sweatshirt!

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    1. I would bet a whole different crowd goes to the beach when it's cold - tons of stories there! :)

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  9. I love people watching! I've always wanted to live near the beach, but I have a feeling I'd spend most of my time indoors, feeling guilty about it!

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    1. My husband and I don't spend nearly as much time at the beach as we'd like. "Life" and "work" often get in the way - must remedy that! :)

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  10. I;m a huge beach person, so this post was right up my alley. I have often wondered in the same way about the people I see there. I'm also an avid shell collector and the Crystal Coast of NC is just perfect. Nice to know I have a sister beach lover out there!

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    1. Absolutely! I have a ton of shells and I want to get better at identifying them. I know a little, but I want to know a lot! :)

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  11. Wow. Your mind really does go on a big what if trip. I bet you get a ton of ideas though. I haven't been to the beach for a while. We don't have too many around here, but I'd love to just go sit and people watch.

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    1. I know it's not the same, but the mall is a good place for people watching, too. One time I saw these two women embracing, one crying and the other consoling. I wanted so badly to know what was going on but I made myself walk past. The writer in me made up my own answers. :)

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  12. Madeline, your mind is a lot like mine: it asks too many questions or in your case: what if scenarios. Sometimes I feel I can never relax, what with my mind churning questions after questions.

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    1. I'm not sure I remember what it feels like to have a calm mind or be able to totally relax. Sigh.

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  13. I love the way you've played the "what if" game with people, places, possibilities, and images. I do that too, even on my daily bike rides. What if that older lady who drags her dog out of the path, stands in the sticker bushes, and frowns at me lost her husband to a crazy bicyclist? What if the dog is her only friend? What if she hovers by the church that gives on food on Fridays because she either doesn't have enough food on her limited income, or because she's hovering around other people just to hears some conversation? And so on . ..

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    1. Those are some great "What if...?"'s, Tyrean! I sense a story there…. :)

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  14. Your observations rock, Madeline. That's why you're such a good writer. My wife and I like to people-watch at the beach (and everywhere else we go). Even subconsciously, it's a great source for characterization.

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    1. Aw, thanks Milo. I agree about the people-watching happening subconsciously and how that affects our work.

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  15. Ah, you can't even walk on the beach without thinking about writing! Me too :) SD
    http://www.sandradanby.com/

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    1. I don't think my writing brain ever really shuts off. :)

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