I write for a living. That means I have to sell what I write. I can’t just scribble for the sake of the exercise.
I write travel articles — about my hometown and about places at the far reaches of the globe. But I also write marketing copy. That is, copy meant to persuade… to sell things.
And one of the secrets to my success in that arena — a line of work that pays me six-figures a year — has been my ability to tell a good story.
People like stories. They’ll stick around to hear them. And if they stick around long enough, you can sell them something.
This is useful for travel writers because, after all, you’re “selling” a reader your ideas about a destination. Do it well, and editors will come knocking.
Because they’re in the business of selling magazines and newspapers. And they manage to do that by printing articles that consistently engage their readers.
When it comes to engaging readers, stories work.
We understand stories. We’ve been listening to them all our lives. Our mothers sat us on their laps to read us stories.
I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that stories hold the key to our understanding of the world — whether we’re reading them in novels or in newspapers or we’re watching them unfold on the silver screen.
When a good storyteller launches into a tale, your ears perk up. You pull that bar stool a little closer. You’re engaged.
When you start an article with a well-told story, the same thing happens. Your readers focus a little more intently. They’re engaged.
And, since it’s your job as the writer to engage your readers quickly, arguably the best way to do it is through a story.
Here are three quick tips for telling a story well…
** 1. Start in the middle of the action.
Say you’re writing an article about traveling with young kids. Drop your reader into your story at the moment when the infant child pees on your lap in seat 5b. Explain that it was a mere 30 seconds later that your nursing-mother breasts began to leak.
That way your reader sees your quandary right off the bat. You’re cruising at 17,000 feet in a now-translucent blouse, soaking wet from neck to knees. You’re emitting a faintly ripe odor. And you’re wondering how, exactly, to handle the situation, given that you’re seated between two clearly conservative businessmen in expensive suits, neither of whom appears to have a wife, a child, or an ounce of sympathy.
Now, if you started that story at the point when you boarded the plane, it just wouldn’t be as interesting. With very few exceptions, a well-told story does not proceed chronologically.
** 2. Make sure your story is relevant.
Open your article with a quick story that illustrates your main theme. If your article is about what to see and do in Paris with young children, it wouldn’t make sense to start it with a story about your disastrous plane ride. On the other hand, if your article is a how-to piece that offers tips for smooth trips with young children, that plane story could work just fine.
** 3. Use specific details. And rely on more than just your eyes to find them.
Don’t say “I was a wet mess on the plane” when you can, instead, take your reader to the mess and show it to him. Vivid imagery is what really engages a reader. And to get that, you need the specific details.
The most powerful images aren’t just about what you see. Think about the smells, the sounds, the feel of things. When you include those references in your descriptions, that’s when they begin to take on more dimension, to transport your reader.
And once you’ve done that… You’ve hooked him.
Your first reader is an editor. And if you can hook that editor with a relevant, well-told story up front, you’ll sell your article. I can just about guarantee it.