(Of course, that means the characters are on the boat, not me. I’m not sitting in a deck chair, rocking back and forth while I write.)
Part of the fun of writing a book is taking the reader on an adventure, and part of the fun of the adventure is having the details be accurate.
When you have your characters out on the water, things change a little bit. I used to have a boat, so I know some of the terminology for a recreational vessel of a certain size, but as an author I have to walk a fine line.
And this applies across the board, whether it’s boating or camping or skydiving, and also whether we are dealing with a gun or ammunition, the way a police officer stands when he or she holds their gun, or even what type of gun it is.
And the dilemma is this:
We need to be accurate but not too accurate.
For example, I know what side of the boat is port and starboard. My reader may not. Some will, but a lot won’t. So I have to write the scene using the right terminology, but doing it in such a way that it doesn’t really matter too much if you read it and don’t know port from starboard.
There’s also the bow in the stern (front and back). Ropes on a boat are called lines. The floor of a boat is called the deck.
And then if there are multiple levels to the boat, you can be below deck or above deck. You can be fore or aft, or for or stern.
So what I try to do is think back to when I didn’t own a boat, and the types of things I probably would’ve known from general knowledge, and I stick to that. If I have to refer to a boat rope twice, then one time I will call it a line and the next time I’ll call it a rope – and I’ll do it in close enough proximity and with surrounding detail to clue the reader in. If the guy throws the line, I can say the other person caught the rope, or that the rope fell onto the deck and draped itself over the railing or something, letting the reader knows the physical characteristics of “the line” so they can get an idea of what it is. (Really, on that one, most readers would probably already know a line is a rope.) While switching between line and rope isn’t completely accurate, it’s going to bridge the gap of confusion for those who aren’t completely aware of boating terminology.
And for anyone who doesn’t make the connection, rest assured: knowing a line is a rope will NOT affect your ability to enjoy the story.
Stuff like that will be inconsequential if you didn’t get it.
I had a boat with a motor. Sailboats have an additional vocabulary for all the rigging and types of sails. They have a keel. Most boats with motors don’t have that. And even with boats that have motors, there’s gonna be an inboard or an outboard; depending on the size of the boat, it may have several motors. It’s gonna have a propeller and a gas line. A small sailboat might not need much of that, but bigger sailboats tend to have motors for when there’s no wind.
And that’s all before you get into things like the head and the berth, which are the bathroom and the bedroom, respectively. I usually have one character correct another character with stuff like that:
“There’s a shopping bag on the table down below, with a new t-shirt and shorts from the hotel shop. The puppy print ones you liked. You can change in the bathroom.”
Constantine shuffled away from the railing. “On a boat, the bathroom’s called ‘the head.’ Did you cut the tags off the shirts? They itch me.”
“I did. Scoot. We’ll put on more sunscreen when you come back. And I got you a hat, too. It’s in the bag.”
Frowning, Constantine descended the stairs. “I don’t fancy wearing a hat.”
“I don’t fancy skin cancer.” Trinn slid her fishing rod out of the holder and cranked the reel, pulling in her line.
Well as I say, this is the type of stuff we run into with every story. If a guy goes in the desert, he’s probably not going to find an oak tree. He might find a cactus.
If somebody goes to Indonesia, and he’s looking for a cab driver who is sleeping in the shade of a tree, you have to find out what kind of trees they have in Indonesia! They might not have oak trees. And the noise in the trees might be from birds we don’t have here.
But as I mentioned, part of the fun of writing a book is taking the reader on an adventure, and part of the fun of the adventure is having the details be accurate.
So the cab driver is sleeping in the shade of a pala tree.
If I do my job right, do you have a good time and feel like you went to a new place, but you don’t feel lost and confused on the way.
Which is probably good advice for any kind of a trip you take.