A Guide to Writing About Pirates

In the midst of writing a pirate-themed D&D campaign, it occurred to me that I should share some of the research I was doing. After all, pirate stories have captivated audiences since the dawn of piracy, and there are many different ways pirates can fit into fantasy and science fiction stories. From gritty historical realism to fantastical stories about air pirates in flying ships, there’s something for everyone to love. 

Pirate Time Periods

Pirates have existed for almost as long as ships have existed—proving that, as long as something can be plundered, someone will come along and plunder it. 

The first pirates emerged sometime between 1400-1200 BCE. However, when you think of the classic European pirates, with their cutlasses and jolly rogers, you’re envisioning a time known as the “Golden Age of Piracy.” 

The Golden Age of Piracy began in the mid-1600s, but the lead-up to it started nearly a century before. The increase in overseas trade, coupled with the widespread inequality, colonialism, and conflict affecting the people of Europe at the time, led to many people falling into the less-than-respectable occupation. During the golden age, it’s estimated that between 5,000 and 10,000 pirates were out sailing the seas. However, all things must come to an end. 

The golden age of piracy began to decline in the early to mid-1700s, but piracy continued to a lesser extent into the early to mid-1800s. Colonial port cities became more developed, and governments started taking more of a stand against piracy. In addition to that, many pirates were offered pardons in exchange for ending their pirate careers, letting them return to life on land while facing no consequences for their crimes. 

Much of what makes pirates recognizable is a product of the time period in which they lived. Your pirate story doesn’t have to be set in a historical period, but it can be helpful to keep their original context in mind. When you’re writing about pirates in space, deep-sea submarines, or hot air balloons, consider how the world they live in contributes to how these pirates look and behave. 

What is a Privateer?

The age of piracy really took off when governments started commissioning privately owned ships to attack the merchant ships of nations they were warring with. The crews on these ships were essentially pardoned from any of their behaviors while out to sea, and they were able to plunder and capture ships without fear of being charged with piracy—as long as they were attacking the right ships, of course. These became known as “privateers,” and they functioned essentially like state-sponsored pirates. 

Privateering being made illegal in the mid-1800s was the final blow to piracy in Europe, leading to its unceremonious end. 

Pirate Terminology

One of the most important elements of writing convincing pirates is to know, and accurately use, pirate terminology and slang. You might think you know how pirates spoke, but if you actually spoke like a pirate on everyone’s (least) favorite corporate holiday, no one would know what the hell you’re talking about. 

Naturally, being out to sea for years at a time with the same crew meant that many pirates developed ship-specific slang and inside jokes. No two crews would communicate exactly the same. Add to that the fact that pirates originated from all across Europe, or were former slaves or crew from captured vessels from around the world, and you’ve got a rather mixed bag of languages. English was far from the dominant language spoken on pirate ships—however, I’m assuming your story will be written in English anyway, so this section will discuss only the appropriate English terms.  

I was going to make this section a long list of pirate terms and their definitions, but, unsurprisingly, a much better resource than what I could make already exists. 

Check out the Glossary of Pirate Terms and Phrases by the St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum. 

If you’re looking for a glossary of slang terms instead, be sure to check out An A to Z of Pirate & Seafaring Expressions by World History Encyclopedia. 

And of course, if you’re writing a pirate story that bears little resemblance to real historical events, you can have your pirates talk any way you’d like. Do keep in mind how people often develop their own slang when trapped aboard a small vessel with only the same few people to interact with for long periods of time. If you do include unique slang in your story, however, make sure to include enough context for readers to understand what it means! 

Pirate Ship Roles

As you can imagine, pirate ships had many jobs that needed to be done in order to maintain some level of functioning. On larger ships, each of these roles was likely to be filled by different individuals, but on ships with limited crew, some individuals would have to take up multiple jobs. The first mate was often also the quartermaster and the navigator, while the captain often piloted and the carpenter did medicine. 


The ship’s captain was responsible for leading the crew in battle, maintaining order, and making important decisions. Often, they were the person to purchase the ship initially, but that did not guarantee their position. Captains maintained their roles with their skill and charisma, rather than by force. If a crew largely disagreed with their captain, they could mutiny, and the captain would have little authority to control the uprising. Naturally, a group of heavily armed, ruthless pirates, who value freedom above all else, wouldn’t tolerate an oppressive leader. If a crew did overthrow their captain, they would often democratically elect a new captain, who would then be expected to take up all the associated responsibilities.

For a pirate captain, the respect of their crew was the most important factor for their success, but success was often the best way to gain respect. Because of this, pirate captains would capitalize heavily on their victories, pay their crew extremely well, and maintain impressive and threatening appearances to instill awe in their crew and fear in their enemies. This is why some of the most memorable pirate captains are the ones with bombastic appearances and theatrical tendencies—such as wearing huge, brightly-colored coats and accessories, growing large beards, and, in the case of the notorious “Black Beard,” even lighting slow-burning fuses in their hats so a dark plume of smoke would follow them wherever they go. 


The Quartermaster of a pirate ship was the captain’s second-in-command, however, they would be elected by the crew democratically, rather than being assigned that role by the captain. The quartermaster’s job was myriad: to divide the power on the ship to ensure the captain did not have too much power, to maintain and fairly distribute the resources and loot on the ship, and to enforce the captain’s rules and dish out punishment when necessary. In many ways, they had the same amount of power as the captain, and would similarly benefit from garnering respect and keeping the crew happy. They would even get the same wages as the captain, which was (usually) double the wage of the regular crewmates.

If a crew managed to capture a second ship, and the captain decided to expand their command to a fleet instead of a single ship, the quartermaster was often the one selected to captain the second ship. 

A quartermaster on a pirate ship is comparable to a first mate on naval ships and other seafaring vessels. However, the first mate of a pirate ship is different. It’s confusing, I know. 

First Mate

The first mate on a pirate ship is the captain’s successor. They are often assigned this role by the captain, rather than being elected by the crew like the quartermaster. The first mate ranks below the captain and quartermaster, but would still have authority to enact the captain’s rules. If the captain is rendered incapable of continuing their duties, the first mate will take over as captain. It was not at all uncommon, however, for the roles of first mate and quartermaster to fall on the same individual—especially on smaller ships. 

Pirate ships would also often have a longer chain of command, including a second mate, third mate, and so on.


Both the captain and the quartermaster of a pirate ship were expected to have navigational skills, but a dedicated navigator was a rare and extremely beneficial addition to a ship. Navigators were some of the most highly skilled seamen, with the knowledge to chart the stars, create maps, predict weather and ocean conditions, and navigate through shallow and dangerous waters. The ability to arrive exactly where they need to be, as well as avoid storms, effectively ambush merchant ships, and make a risky escape when necessary, could make or break a successful pirate crew. 

Often, these skills would earn a pirate some place in the chain of command, such as first or second mate. Additionally, because of the extremely technical and artistic nature of their duties, the navigator of a ship was often referred to as “the artist.” 


The helmsman was the pilot of the ship, but they did much more than simply control the ship’s trajectory. It was the helmsman’s duty to fully understand the ship, what it was capable of, and how to maximize its potential. They would need to understand how deep the ship sat in the water at a given time, how much the ship could hold, how large the ship was, what conditions it could withstand, how fast it could move, and more—as well as how those factors would influence how the ship handles. The helmsman would also have the authority to command the “deck crew” (the crewmates that make sailing possible).   

Additionally, expertly controlling a ship in battle was extremely important and high-stakes, especially if the opposing ship was equipped with cannons. Having complete control over a ship could make the difference between life and death for a crew. 

Needless to say, the helmsman’s position was one of high regard, and it often necessitated working closely with both the captain and the navigator. 


The boatswain was responsible for keeping the ship seaworthy—a position that granted them a rather high ranking. They reported directly to the quartermaster and personally oversaw the duties of several crewmates (including the cook and carpenter), and as such, were often ranked third or fourth in command. It was also common for the boatswain to be able to freely command the deck crew and have their own mate to assist them in their tasks.

The tasks of the boatswain included maintaining the ship and its parts, ensuring the sails and anchors were in proper working order, enforcing the quartermaster’s orders, maintaining the stores of food, munitions, and supplies, and reporting misconduct to the quartermaster. Without a boatswain to ensure all the parts of the ship remain in working order, the crew would certainly be doomed to a grave at the bottom of the sea. In many ways, the boatswain was the metaphorical glue that held a ship together (and also because they literally were in charge of ensuring the ship was properly tarred and watertight). 


Many of the members of a pirate crew were little more than common laborers. The bulk of the crew was comprised of former navel or merchant men, fishermen, captives from plundered ships, or simply individuals bored of structured life on shore.

Some seamen were relatively unskilled, but those with commendable abilities and more experience were given a higher rank and other mates to supervise. These pirates were often referred to as “masters” of their given craft, such as “master carpenter” or “master gunner,” and in addition to their normal duties, were expected to mentor their mates on their craft. A master carpenter could have one mate (or multiple) to supervise, and would have the authority to give them orders or discipline them as they saw fit—however, the master themself would have to report to the quartermaster or captain.


Carpenters were an invaluable part of any successful pirate ship. Naturally, a ship constantly out to sea would require frequent repairs—either due to weather, normal wear, or cannon fire. Other times, modifications would be made to the ship on the fly, such as removing large structures to make more room for loot or supplies, carving new holes in the hull for new cannons, and altering spaces to suit different purposes. It was also common for a carpenter’s duties to include modifying captured merchant vessels to convert them into ships for the pirate fleet. 

Carpenters reported to the boatswain, and were given more wages than a typical seamen (roughly 1.5x). 


Ensuring everyone on a pirate crew was well-fed was no small task, and as such, ships often employed one or many cooks. Generally, these cooks were nothing special, and they prepared food that was filling, but not necessarily tasty. One of the reasons for this was that ships rarely hired cooks. Instead, crewmates who lost a limb or were otherwise gravely injured in their normal line of work (or those who were simply old) were offered continued employment as cooks, which was both less dangerous and less labor-intensive. Otherwise, cooking duties fell on normal seamen, who might take shifts working in the kitchen. However, this meant that most cooks on pirate ships had no actual experience with cooking food.

Cooks were supervised by the boatswain, and often worked closely with them and the quartermaster to maintain the food supplies—whether that meant simply keeping inventory or maintaining livestock kept aboard the ship. 


Gunners were the crewmates in charge of handling the cannons during battle. Each cannon required multiple people to operate, so master gunners often had many mates and apprentices working under them. The master gunner would personally report to the boatswain. 

Operating a cannon on a pirate ship had many obvious challenges, from aiming at a moving target while bobbing on the waves, to not damaging the target ship so badly that it sinks before the treasures on board can be retrieved. Distance and weather had to be accounted for, and many decisions had to be made in the heat of the moment. Add to that the fact that gunpowder was hazardous to work with and difficult to store (it would be rendered useless if wet), and the job of gunners starts to seem rather complicated. In fact, gunners had to apprentice for many years before they would become good enough to take up the position. 

Assisting the gunners were groups of young boys and new recruits, dubbed “powder monkeys.” Although these boys were often treated (and paid) very poorly, they could find themselves moving up the ranks on the ship (if they managed to live long enough). 


Like the carpenter, the sailmaker was an essential part of keeping the ship in proper working order—and they did exactly what it sounds like. They would make or repair the vessel’s sails when necessary, ensuring that the ship could continue its voyage no matter what it faced.

When weather or conflict ripped up a sail, a ship wouldn’t be able to go anywhere. Damage to sails, however, was a natural consequence of almost any fight. Not only were they large and likely to face collateral damage from cannon fire, but they were also often targets themselves. Shredding an opponent’s sails ensured they wouldn’t be able to retreat, and many weapons and munitions (such as grapeshot) were designed specifically to damage sails. 

Like carpenters, the sailmaker would likely be supervised by the boatswain.


Many pirate vessels had surgeons on board to help treat injuries sustained in battle by performing emergency amputations, stitching up wounds, and preventing and treating illness aboard the ship—but many others didn’t see this as an essential role. 

Ships that did have surgeons likely didn’t start their voyage with one. It was more likely that the surgeon was captured from another vessel and forced to work. Interestingly, despite being kidnapped and forced into service, they could have still been paid just like any normal crewmate—though that would depend on the crew they ended up with.

For ships that didn’t have surgeons, that role would be filled by other crewmates when necessary. The carpenter was usually the first choice for amputations, while a sailmaker would be selected for suturing since they would already be good at stitching. Other times, cooks or basic seamen would take up the role, to predictably mixed results. 


Sometimes, captives from other vessels would be kept aboard a ship for little more than entertainment. Musicians were almost always present on pirate ships to stir up morale and provide some amusement for the inevitable downtime associated with traversing long distances. 

However, under the right circumstances, musicians could do much more than provide a fun little tune whenever someone got bored. During battle, musicians could contribute to the noise, alongside shouts and cannon fire, that made a pirate attack so terrifying. Harsh drumbeats and screeching fiddles were components of horror long before movie soundtracks existed.

In addition to adding musical scores to murderous attacks, musicians could contribute to rigging and other tasks that required coordination between multiple crewmates by providing a rhythm for them to time their actions. 

Cabin Boy

The cabin boy on a pirate vessel acted much like one on any other kind of ship. He was often a young boy apprenticing under the captain to learn the trade, and often had to be at the beck and call for all the captain’s wishes—whether that be to learn about star charts or to simply fetch his trousers. More often than not, however, the cabin boy would be running errands aboard the ship, such as relaying information between crewmates, fetching meals, and cleaning.

Like the powder monkeys on gun crews, a cabin boy would end up working long hours for very little pay—if any pay at all. 

Writing Pirate Characters

Pirates in reality were rough and rugged criminals with a strong sense of individualism and freedom. Pirates in fiction, however, can be any number of things—goofy, evil, romantic, glamorous, alien, or undead. Don’t feel too constrained by what is realistic for your pirates, and write them in whatever way will serve the story you’re telling. 

Crafting pirate characters is fundamentally similar to building any other character, but with some specific personality and backstory that needs to be considered. If you aren’t sure how to get started, you can check out these articles before continuing:

How to Make Characters Interesting, Complex, and Unique

How to Create Compelling Character Backstories

Now, the most important things to consider when creating pirate characters are: where they are in the hierarchy on the ship, how they got there, and what they want. 

Pirate ships have a hierarchy with the captain and quartermaster at the top. Beneath them is the first mate, second mate, and so on, and then the boatswain. Beneath the boatswain, there are officers and tradesmen, such as carpenters, gunners, and navigators, who command a team of specialized seamen and apprentices. Then there are nonspecialized seamen, and finally, at the bottom, there are the cabin boys and powder monkeys. Where a person fell in this crew hierarchy would determine not only the respect and power they commanded but also the pay that they received. 

Consider what position you want a given character to be in, and how that will influence the things they will be able to get away with. Additionally, you’ll need to consider why they are in that position. If they are a helmsman’s apprentice, how did they end up in that role instead of that of a menial laborer? Did they have connections in the right circles? Pirate relatives? An unusual skill for sailing? If they are a lowly powder monkey, how did they get on the ship? Were they born at sea? Captured and forced to come aboard? Orphaned with nowhere else to go? If they are a lowly seaman, what led them to this occupation? Poverty? Boredom? A simple urge to commit violent acts? All of these considerations are important for giving your characters a solid backstory and a direction for further development. 

Finally, you will need to make sure your pirate character has goals. Do they plan to sail around for a few years, amass a fortune, and then retire on the beach? Do they want to become a captain of their own ship someday? Do they want to become a famous and widely feared pirate talked about in history books for generations? Do they want to blindly chase after a whale for some deluded sense of retribution? Or something else? 

Here are some other questions you can use to consider more elements of your character’s personality:

  • What job do they do on the ship? If they are a normal laborer or part of the deck crew, what do they do most often and why?
  • Are they good at what they do?
  • Do they enjoy being a pirate? Do they like their role on the ship?
  • What is their attitude towards other pirates? Other sailers? What about people on land?
  • What crimes are they willing to commit? What lines will they not cross?
  • Do they have any traumas related to life at sea? What about traumas they may be running away from by sailing out to sea?
  • Do they have anything they are afraid of, whether related to piracy or not?
  • Do they feel bad about what they do sometimes? Why? How do they justify their continued behavior?
  • Are they jealous of other crewmates? Why?
  • What is their favorite part of being a pirate? What is their least favorite?
  • What kinds of weapons do they prefer to use?
  • Do they have a retirement plan? What is it?

What Did Pirates Eat?

Naturally, being out to sea meant that pirates didn’t have a lot of access to a variety of food. Long voyages would often leave crew members malnourished and sick, with many of them suffering from “scurvy” (a condition now known to be caused by a vitamin C deficiency). With that said, a crew’s diet could vary wildly depending on many factors, including how long they had been out to sea, the size of the ship, and when they last plundered a merchant ship. 

At the start of a voyage, a pirate vessel would be stocked not only with nonperishable provisions but also whatever perishable food could be consumed in two weeks’ time. Those first weeks of an expedition were often treated like a celebration, with pirates feasting on roast meats, cheese, bread, fresh fruit, and vegetables. 

As a voyage progressed, a pirate could expect their meals to look more like hardtack, beans or rice, and shelf-stable staples like jerky and dried fruits—although those last two options often spoiled anyway due to the high-moisture environment. Some larger ships also kept livestock like goats or chickens on board, opting to feed them their grain in exchange for the fresh eggs and milk—and eventually meat—that they would produce. 

Although pirates were out to sea, and surrounded by a vast resource of fresh fish, they actually ate a lot less fish than you might expect. Fishing was time-consuming, and it often didn’t produce enough food to justify the time required. One exception to this is with sea turtles. Pirates would go out of their way to hunt sea turtles to eat since they were large and nutritious, and could stay alive for weeks at a time on board the ship, thus staying fresh. 

Pirates didn’t often go too long without a good meal, however. Since their primary targets were merchant ships, which would embark on much shorter voyages than pirate ships, they would often be able to plunder much fresher foods from their victims. When pirates would celebrate a victory against a merchant ship, their victory feast would include the stolen rations that had been brought aboard. 

What is Scurvy?

Pirates were no strangers to diseases, but no affliction was more feared than the dreaded “scurvy.” At the time, no one understood what caused it. They only knew that it affected almost exclusively sailers. Nowadays, we understand that scurvy is caused by a lack of vitamin C in the diet, so it made sense that sailors who didn’t have a lot of fresh fruit on hand would be the most impacted. 

The first signs that a pirate had come down with scurvy would be fatigue, joint pain, and irritability, although these signs probably got overlooked frequently since the nature of a pirate’s daily life would likely make them irritable and sore anyway. As the disease progressed, however, it would become very difficult to ignore. 

Over time, the disease would result in rough, scaly patches on the skin, bleeding gums, swollen legs, and poor wound healing (or a complete inability to heal). From then on, the symptoms would become debilitating, with teeth falling out, frequent bleeding under the skin leaving dark, reddish-purple blotches across the body, and, most horrifying, years-old scars opening up again like fresh wounds. Naturally, for pirates that lead dangerous lives fighting at sea, old scars opening up again could kill a man outright. 

The cure for scurvy—eating more fresh fruits and vegetables—was not formally discovered until after the golden age of piracy came to an end.

Although scurvy was feared on pirate ships across the sea, pirates were significantly less affected by it compared to other sailors—particularly those on navy ships. Pirates would plunder fresh foods off of merchant ships, and would often make stops at tropical islands on which they could acquire more fresh fruit and thus, unknowingly, stave off the disease. 

Pirate Weaponry

Although stories abound about successful pirates returning to shore with mountains of plundered gold, the reality was that most pirates were not remotely wealthy. When it came time to arm themselves for a fight, a lot of their weapons looked a lot like… well, sticks. 

Pirate Melee Weapons

Sticks and clubs were a common choice for arming large groups of pirates, especially for new crews, and they could still make pretty effective weapons. Other common choices were halberds (long polearms with an axe blade near the end), axes, spears, pikes, machetes, throwing knives, and long knives. Most iconic of the pirate melee weapons, however, was the notorious cutlass—a short curved saber with an ornate hand guard. The cutlass was so iconic that depictions of a classic pirate wouldn’t seem complete until the weapon was included at their side. 

Aside from melee weapons, pirates used a variety of projectiles to kill their enemies from a distance, including handguns, grenades, and cannons. 

Pirate Handguns

Handguns were far from being elegant technology at this point, and although they weren’t exactly reliable, they saw a lot of use throughout the Golden Age of Piracy. One of the more popular choices for firearms was a flintlock musket, with part of the barrel sawed off to make it a shorter and more close-range weapon.

These weapons could only be fired once before they had to be manually, and laboriously, reloaded. In addition to that, these weapons were prone to misfiring, exploding, and malfunctioning. To combat some of these shortcomings, some pirates strapped multiple loaded guns to their bodies, so they could afford to fire off multiple shots in a single battle. 

Pirate Grenades

Pirate grenades bore little resemblance to the grenades used in modern warfare, but they were still quite devastating weapons. These grenades (also sometimes called “fireballs”) were made using a glass bottle that was filled with gunpowder and lead shot (or whatever random metal shrapnel would fit in the bottle). A fuse could be fed into the neck of the bottle, allowing it to be lit, thrown, and detonated.

Sometimes improvised containers—such as coconuts—were used, though they were markedly less deadly than glass and lead grenades.

Pirate Cannons

Cannons were a hallmark of any successful pirate vessel, but they were able to shoot much more than just cannonballs. Despite their shortcomings of being unreliable, difficult to aim, and dangerous to use, cannons were remarkably versatile. Different kinds of ammunition could be loaded into the cannons depending on the situation.

Regular cannonballs were the best choice for long-range fights and wanton destruction, since a solid 30-pound sphere of iron could fly far and destroy anything in its path. However, if the pirates wanted to board the ship to steal whatever it had on board, then sinking it was not ideal.

In that case, bar-shot (two cannonballs connected with an iron bar in the middle) or chain-shot (two cannonballs connected with a chain) were selected. These types of ammunition would spin upon exiting the cannon and were used to destroy the masts and sails of the opposing ship to prevent retreat. This way, the ship’s hull would not be damaged, allowing the pirates on board. However, if the pirates needed the ship intact to turn it into a pirate vessel for their fleet, then destroying the masts and sails was also not ideal. 

Grapeshot was the ammunition of choice for pirates who wanted a swift end to a fight without compromising much of the ship’s integrity. Grapeshot comprised of many smaller iron spheres packed tightly together in a canvas bag. Once fired, the bag would burn away, letting the small projectiles spread out and cover a wider area. These small projectiles were naturally devastating to human bodies but resulted in only small holes in the ship that would be easy to plug and repair. In this way, the other humans on the opposing ship could be cleared away, and their ship could remain in seafaring condition. 

How to Write a Pirate Sword Fight

Swordfights are an iconic part of any good pirate story, yet writing a swordfight (or any fight, for that matter) is notoriously difficult. 

The thing to keep in mind when writing a swordfight is that research has to be your first step. Understanding the kinds of weapons your characters are using and how they are used is essential in not only keeping the fight realistic but also conveying what is going on. Learn the terminology to describe the specific moves you want the characters to make (lunge, fade, parry, pivot, deflect, etc), and make sure that the moves don’t conflict with the kinds of weapons the characters are wielding. A cutlass is a slashing weapon that doesn’t work well for stabbing, whereas a rapier is used for thrusting and stabbing and wouldn’t do much damage at all if used to slash. 

Making the fight mean something is an important element in keeping readers engaged. Are the characters merely fighting for the sake of treasure, or is there something else on the line? Is a character trying to prove themself or overcome something? Are they facing off against someone important, or someone who scares them? Are they using a weapon they’ve never handled before? Are they defending someone else? These motivations can give you dialogue or thoughts to work with to weave between actions and slow the pacing down. 

Pacing is extremely important in a fight scene. You don’t want it to be over too fast, but you also don’t want it to drag on. If several paragraphs in a row are consistently high-energy, it will be tiring to read, but the opposite can be equally fatiguing. You’ll need to alternate between fast-paced descriptions of action and slowed-down moments of analysis, observation, or reflection. You need to give your characters time in between attacks to adjust their footing, analyze their opponent, catch their breath, and contend with their own emotions. Take a moment to describe the sweat gliding down their skin, the feeling of their heartbeat as they wait anxiously to react to the next attack, or the character’s thoughts and anxieties. Draw the readers into the scene by adding details like a character being able to see their breath in the cold weather, feel their clothes whip around in the wind, or hear the crashing of the waves against the side of the ship—then interrupt this imagery with a stark and sudden reminder that the character’s life is presently in danger. 

It’s also important to balance physical realism with excitement and drama. Realistically, a person who takes a saber slash to the chest would be so incapacitated that staying conscious would be a struggle, and continuing to fight would be impossible. However, in fiction, a fight isn’t as satisfying to readers if there isn’t a little drama, and a character having the resolve and stamina to continue a fight (and even win) after enduring a devastating wound is much more exciting. Too strict of an adherence to realism could be boring, but too much drama and disregard for physical limitations could actually make readers care less about the characters involved. Balance this carefully, and be sure to properly address and describe the characters’ wounds after the fight.

For some help in describing wounds like those sustained in a swordfight, you might want to check out another article: Writing About Cuts, Scrapes, and Bruises.

How to Keep the Setting Interesting In a Pirate Story 

Pirate stories often run into an issue that most other stories don’t, which is that their setting is rather stagnant. A lot of the story has the potential to take place on a ship in the middle of the ocean, and after a while, that can get a little dull. Here are some suggestions for keeping the story from being held back by this.

Include multiple locations the ship can stop at. There are many options for different settings in a pirate story, such as other ships that are being invaded, port cities, islands, and, depending on your story, even the bottom of the sea. Make sure there are intermissions throughout your story where the characters can move around and experience a change of scene. If that isn’t possible, you can create a similar effect through the use of flashbacks, memories, dreams, or even temporarily switching perspective to a relevant character somewhere else. 

If you take the flashback route, make sure you read this article to avoid making common mistakes: How to Write a Flashback in Your Story.

Focus on conflict between crewmates, interpersonal struggles, and day-to-day mistakes. Even in restricted settings, stories that heavily feature characters’ emotions and relationships can still be really successful. Show how the characters interact, highlight any tensions between them, and bring attention to different crewmates’ behaviors—especially if their behavior could foreshadow a future event. In addition to foreshadowing and keeping interest, this strategy also often makes characters feel more alive and relatable, which can keep readers more invested long-term.

Finally, don’t be afraid to skip over long periods of travel. Don’t feel pressured to show readers everything in every scene. Sometimes it is better to cut a scene short and move on, or risk leaving readers behind on a maritime road trip. 


Avast ye! It’s time to set sail. May ye have fair winds ever and always, mateys.