by Sarah M. Chen
When I travel, I research A LOT because that’s just in my nature. But also I like to know what my options are, such as must-see points of interest, the most intriguing neighborhoods, where the best food is, etc.
For my most recent trip, a cruise to the Bahamas, I did all the planning and research. It didn’t matter that it was my friend’s 40th birthday. He is definitely not much of a planner and wisely left everything to me. All he said was this: “I don’t care what we’re doing because when I look back on a trip, it’s all about the people I meet.” I waved him off. What does he know? It’s all about the excursions, the ports, and most importantly, what kind of cabin we get!
Well, we were both right. Yes, there were a lot of benefits to my extensive research. I chose a nice suite with a private balcony. We used our private balcony a lot to take in the sunset while sipping wine and eating the cheese and bread we stole from the buffet earlier…
Swimming with dolphins was THE highlight of the trip for me, maybe even my entire life. This is an activity that I read every single review, and it ranked as one of the top excursions for every single passenger.
Another activity—well, I don’t know if I can call it an “activity”—that I looked forward to every night was discovering what cute towel animal our cabin steward so thoughtfully left on our bed with the next day’s itinerary. My friend and I enjoyed guessing what they were. Bear? Yoda?
But I have to admit, the people we met on this trip were absolutely lovely: from the sweet couple who were our next door neighbors celebrating their 50th anniversary on the cruise to the elegant couple celebrating the wife’s 70th birthday listening to smooth jazz in the lobby of our Charleston hotel. I will never forget that our cabin neighbors asked me to sign their conch shell when they found out I was a mystery author. How cool is that? I felt like a celebrity. Or when the elegant couple invited us to stay with them in Mt. Pleasant the next time we visit Charleston. Because obviously there will be a next time! Talk about Southern hospitality.
Which got me thinking…is it the people I met on this cruise—like my friend said—that makes the trip? Or is it the exciting activities I planned, like swimming with the dolphins? Because I mean, come on…swimming with dolphins!
Then it hit me: it’s exactly how I feel about books. Is it the twisty suspenseful plot of a wonderful mystery or thriller that grabs me or is it the complicated three-dimensional characters that I love? It’s actually both: the plot is what grabs me when I first pick up a book but it’s the characters that I take away with me long after I’ve finished.
When I write, it’s the same thing. Sometimes I’m inspired by a scene. I envision a scenario between two people, a what-if situation. Other times, a certain person I see on the street or someone I meet briefly in a coffee shop grabs my interest and I’m inspired to put them in my short story.
How about you? Do you look back fondly on a trip and think of what you did or is it the people you meet?
Check out Sarah M. Chen’s crime fiction short stories on http://www.sarahmchen.com