There’s something about the sea that is both inspiring and frightening. It has the ability to enchant you with its beauty and consume you with its power. It is a force unto itself. So it can be a fantastic setting for your stories as it can provide drama in a way that land cannot, especially if it is set in a time when the sea is the only way of getting from one place to another.
The sea is a barrier – unless you can fly, it can prevent loved ones from one another, or keep enemies conveniently apart. Surviving a crossing is never certain, as food spoils, water can run out and a lack of vital nutrients and medicines can kill you.
It is also a highway – explorers, traders and invaders have all used the sea to their benefit for thousands of years. There are no tracks left behind you that might give your position away, so the element of surprise is definitely your friend.
It keeps its secrets well hidden – unless you can breathe underwater you cannot see into the bottomless deep. Who knows what monsters or treasures lurk there, or what dangers could tear your ship apart just beneath the waves?
And reveals secrets without warning – massive creatures may be washed ashore or launch themselves into the air beside your frail little craft.
It rises and falls – tides determine when it is best to travel to avoid reefs and rocks, or when the fishing is at its best. And the sea is never still, always moving, which can leave you feeling exhilarated or queasy.
It can sweep you away – unexpected tidal surges and tsunamis can destroy in an instant, and storms at sea can push you up and over waves as high as mountains.
It can bring you home – after a long voyage at sea, home is a welcome sight.
And tear you apart – unforgiving and never sated, the sea can overturn the largest of ships and take innocents down into its cold embrace.
There have been some fascinating fantasy novels set on the sea or surrounded by it. Robin Hobb’s Liveship Traders series is one such example where the ships themselves are alive and hold a dark secret. Juliet Marillier uses it without mercy in her Foxmask and Wolfskin books to challenge her characters, and where fantasy is intertwined with the lives of Viking invaders. Jann Martel’s Life of Pi is an extraordinary tale of a boy lost at sea with a tiger, providing him with multiple dangers to contend with.
You may have visited the seaside in your travels, but it’s worth getting out onto the water to experience it with all your senses to enable you to describe it in greater detail in your stories: the smell of seaweed on the shore, the salt spray drying on your face, the horrible taste of seawater in your mouth, the rise and fall of the waves and the way it makes you feel. Just don’t forget the seasickness pills.