People Versus Dolphins

Sarah M. Chen photo

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…

beautiful sunset Or to wake up and step out to this first thing in the morning…

view from cabin

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. IMG_20150716_144042

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?bear or 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!

smiling at dolphin

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


30 thoughts on “People Versus Dolphins

  1. Great post, Sarah.
    For me, it usually starts with the plot. I can do several revisions until I finally find out enough about characters to make them truly interesting. Well, I usually have a good idea about the main character but the others take their time for me to develop. I’m probably like you when I plan a trip. It’s the itinerary first, but I’ve also been on several cruises and I remember the people I met more than the places I’ve been. But I guess that’s what writing is about – finding the balance between character and plot – like in life.
    – Stephen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Stephen. I think writing crime fiction and mystery relies a lot on plot points which is both good and bad for me. It’s good because I tend to be inspired by a situation or a scene in my head, but once I get going, it’s the characters that I have fun with. Cruises are so much fun and a great way to meet entertaining and colorful people.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sarah, this is a wonderful blog post. I really enjoyed it. We are planning our first cruise in January. My son is giving this to our granddaughter as a graduation present. I loved the photos and please tell me how to set up an adventure like swimming with the dolphins. Loved the way you bought it back to writing. Thanks Cher’ley

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Cher’ley! How exciting that will be – your first cruise! You will love it. The cruise line will have all kinds of different excursions available. You can either purchase them online before your cruise or just book it on the ship. But the longer you wait to book, you can risk the excursions selling out. We just booked them right there on the ship, but we didn’t get the early time we wanted. There are also third parties that sell excursions which you can do once you dock at port, but I thought it would just be easier to do it through the cruise ship.


  3. Welcome Sarah. Thank you for taking us along on your trip. I would have to say, it is the people and the scenery that grab my attention. Of course, if history and research are involved, it becomes and even greater memory. Here’s to the trips and the memories they bring. To the stories we write and the characters who inhabit them. Doris

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Doris. Yes, there is something extra when you visit a town filled with history. Which is also one of the reasons I absolutely loved Charleston. We went to several museums there and I learned so much about why the city is the way it is – proud with a fighting spirit and some of the friendliest people you will ever meet.


  4. Exciting Sarah. I’ve always wanted to swim with dolphins. It is on my bucket list. I love traveling because you can meet all sorts of interesting people and see all sorts of amazing things as well as enjoy tons delicious food. I’m also glad you made it back home. Great post.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Travis. Yes, there was definitely a lot of food to be enjoyed! Good food is definitely a bonus when it comes to traveling. I ate a lot of delicious Southern food in Charleston. There was a fantastic outdoor farmers’ market right across the street from our hotel where I had my first fried chicken and waffles with maple syrup. Very tasty!


  5. They are a lot of fun, Abbie. I know some people say they don’t see how being stuck on a ship all day is fun, but they are filled with activities and like you said, it’s also the people. Everyone on a cruise is so friendly. Hopefully you get the chance to go on one someday.


  6. It’s a combination for me too, Sarah. And it depends on what I need at that time in my life. Sometimes I need the plot. Sometimes I need the people. And you’re so right – it’s the people we meet, in real life and it books, that we carry with us long after the adventure is over.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Your swim with dolphins gave me an idea. A script for a TV about a girl and her friends, dolphins. What? It’s already been done. Oh well, I’m always a day late and a dollar short. Seriously, I’ve always been fascinated with dolphins. When I lived in Central Florida, on drives to Titusville I’d see dolphins swimming in the water as we motored along the causeway to KSC. I’ve also thought it would be ‘keen’ to be on a boat surrounded by whales.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, Mike, dolphins and whales have always fascinated me too. Whales are so majestic and beautiful. Dolphins are so smart and I really wanted to take her home as my pet! Sadly, I don’t have a lagoon handy in my backyard.


  8. Great blog and interesting questions from it. Sounds like fun and insightful as you relate your trip planning to story telling. I am grabbed by plot and character at same time I believe. And as with trips, scenery and people grab equal attention from me. Enjoyed your pictures too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Neva! You brought up a good point with scenery. This can also inspire the setting in my writing later. It always helps me to visit a place in order to describe it accurately.


  9. It’s all about encountering incomprehensible foreign languages and getting hopelessly lost in a strange and forbidding place..! Once when I was young and shy I found a slim volume in the Self Help/Losers section entitled “How to Have a Conversation.” As I read it, I realized it was also an excellent manual for learning to write dialogue. I still have it on my bookshelf. I’m looking out for the sequel: “How to Talk to Dolphins.” Great post Sarah – thanks for taking us along!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Andrew! I love that you still have that manual, “How to Have a Conversation.” Yes, trying to speak the language or navigating your way through a foreign country is definitely an adventure. The only foreign language I encountered was “dolphin speak” and I wisely left that up to the trainers!


  10. Hi, Sarah. Lovely photos to go with the entertaining post. My husband is the serious planner, but I also like to decide in advance what I might want to do at a new destination. I like to be flexible, though, because something better might just not have been noticed till I get there. I’ve never swum with dolphins, but some activities have been great when I’ve booked them on the spur of the moment. Holiday activities led to me writing my contemporary humorous mystery – Take Me Now. 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, flexibility is definitely key when traveling! My friend and are great travel companions because he’s very laid back and I do all the planning. Yet I get that things sometimes just happen that you can’t plan and it’s important to adapt. Spur of the moment is always fun too!


  11. Welcome, Sarah, and what a delightful first post! I love dolphins, too, and would SO ENJOY the opportunity to be that close to them! I enjoy travel also and sights, activities, and new adventures are what drive me, but also visiting people I care about and meeting like-minded folks, such as writers and animal rescuers, always make my heart sing. Thank you for sharing your adventure with us and best to you in your writing endeavors — looking forward to reading more posts from you!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much! Yes, travels always give us such wonderful opportunities to meet people and have adventures. Encountering animals during my travels is an added bonus that I will always welcome.


  12. Most of my trips are more about the critters I encounter. I don’t see very many people when I am on the road. Of course the few people I do encounter are often a good source of information. Like the waitress that told me about the reverse waterfall where we found harbor seals playing the in surf. Also I will always be grateful to the desk clerk who put me in touch with the Saltwater Cowboys that helped me photograph wild ponies. So I guess in the end it is a combination of critters and people.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. Sounds like you had an amazing trip! A cruise is high on my bucket list. About books, I feel the same way. A great one will have a balance of great twisty action and characters that are real and believable. One of the reasons I like series books is that it gives me a chance to know the characters even better. And that’s why I write a series. Harry and Dee, my main characters, have grown so much in the years since I started and I love finding out where they go and how they change with each book. It’s just as big a surprise to me as it is to everyone else!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I agree, Joe. I too love reading series and devoured the Spenser series and Tony Hillerman’s Jim Chee and Lt. Leaphorn series when I first started reading mysteries. I still haven’t finished all the Jack Reachers and am always first in line to buy the latest Bosch title. There’s something about growing with the character. I bet writing a series would be just as rewarding, if not more so!


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