Senor Frogs on a Writing Cruise

By Julie Glover

We gathered on deck for the ship’s safety talk that precedes every cruise. Huddled into assigned groups, we signed away any comfortable personal space and waited for the all-clear signal to disperse. Which took a long time.

I scanned the crowd, curious about those around me who had also boarded the ship. Were they cruise veterans, or was this their first voyage? Did they live in the area from which we sailed, or had they come a great distance to get on the ship? Were they traveling with family or friends?

And then he caught my eye.

Character Inspiration on a Writing Cruise

A young man standing among friends, his cap turned backward on his head, casually chatting and smiling. Good gravy, that was absolutely the main character in the next book I was writing! Unbeknownst to him, I studied this teenager for a while, making mental notes about his appearance, his mannerisms, his attitude. And the details coalesced with my already plotted character to create a fully formed idea of how to describe my story’s hero.

Now that was external information, but that’s hardly the only character inspiration you’ll find on a cruise. A cruise ship is the perfect place for a writer to do people watch and do deep character research!
Watching from a strategic corner, you can witness body language and interpersonal interaction, making it easier to describe on the page. Or you can strike up conversations to get ideas on how to develop flesh-and-blood characters for your book.

And you’ll find people in all kinds of environments: from casino to business meeting, nice restaurant to swimming pool bar, quiet library to nightclub. And in all kinds of groups: couples, families, friends, conference goers. Cruisers also represent a spectrum of racial and ethnic diversity. And come with all sorts of personalities: from the upbeat “shot girl” at Señor Frog’s in Cozumel, to the shy waiter at our nightly dining table, to the cocky (and handsy) guy on the club dance floor, to the trio of brothers who resembled each other very little but displayed their family connection by together singing all the words of the Bob Marley songs playing on our Jamaican tour bus. These, and many other people we came across, could easily be characters in future books.

Getting in and among people can be a fabulous way to sharpen your writing chops, ensuring you write three-dimensional characters that your readers can easily imagine, get attached to, and love. And cruise ship affords a unique opportunity to do deep character research in a single setting in a short time.

Aren’t unforgettable characters what we all strive for? Come on board and get inspired!