We writers have to walk in the footsteps of our characters and place them in locations that move the story forward. You know, that element of story we learned in high school—setting. Without vivid setting, our characters might as well be in a white room with no furniture.
When I was writing the final chapters of my novel, I spent several weeks near Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. (Not too shabby, right?)
Ostensibly I was there to help a friend finish her book (which she did), but don’t think I didn’t schedule significant time in the sun. I walked or ran on the beach a few hundred feet from her house every morning and almost every afternoon. The sparkling water, the waves, the ocean smell, the breezes still flow through me. And the birds—captivating. I can call it all up at a moment’s notice.
I had some research to do still for those last chapters of mine, so when I wasn’t at the beach, my nose was in a book. Lo and behold, a much-thumbed volume—my primary authoritative source—revealed in one short sentence that one of my main characters, a figure from history, took a walk along the Mediterranean coast one afternoon during a critical week of the story.
How crazy to come across that detail for the first time while staying at a beach myself? I’d probably read that sentence dozens of times before, but now it glowed from the page. My own experience made me receptive to it as a possibility. I felt the tingle of history handing me the perfect setting for a major turning point. Mexico gave me the sensory details.
So what happened on my walks from then on? My two main characters talked to each other. I still had to figure out how to have her show up where he was walking, but in the meantime, I could listen in on what they were saying once they got there.
And did they talk. Long, relaxed conversations with the sun and the wind and the water. Intense, angry conversations about issues that had no solutions. Flirty, edgy conversations where they hinted at an attraction but didn’t pursue it—at least, not there on the beach. When I got back to the house, I’d write it all down. Months of further work distilled all of it into the conversation that now is in the book. But how much fun was it spending all that time with them, just improvising?
And that, children, is how you can deduct a three-week trip to Mexico on your tax returns. “It’s this scene, right here, Nice Auditor Person!”
Here’s a little taste of that beach: