What are the ingredients that go into making a great travel story?
I get asked that question a lot. It begins with good observations, good writing, and good perspective, of course. But let’s go even deeper.
Below are five basic things any writer should try to nail when writing a travel story. Put them on a whiteboard beside your desk and check them off as you go. If you do, and you do them well, you’ll catch the attention of any editor.
Traveling can be a funny experience. Stuff happens. Plans break down. Surprises spring up. Sometimes it can even get a little wild. So why shouldn’t your writing reflect that?
Too often writers abstain from the good stuff—the kind of tales and anecdotes that really bring color and life to a piece.
What actually happened when you tried to negotiate a better price at the local market? What was driving through that city center for the first time really like?
You’ll not only give your story an element of humor—I love it when a writer makes me laugh—but you’ll make your piece more relatable to the reader.
Include the people
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve finished reading a draft of a story about a place and wondered aloud, does anyone live there?
New writers, and sometimes veteran ones, too, neglect to show the life of a place. How a place feels and lives and breathes can be revealed through the people who call it home.
Talk to people. Strive for quotes. Show the locals… and let the locals talk. What they say and how they say it will give your writing a wonderful new dimension.
Here are some important words to keep out of your writing: Bold, breathtaking, charming, fresh, interesting, mouth-watering, nestled, quaint, sleek, stunning, and sun-drenched.
I could go on. No, really. I could. These words may sound nice but what do they actually say about the place or thing you’re trying to describe? Not a whole lot. In fact, very little.
Don’t say the sunset is beautiful. Get descriptive. What are the colors like? What are you seeing. Be specific. Your editors and your readers will thank you for it.
Good writing isn’t over-the-top writing. Subtlety is an art. And a rare commodity.
Don’t make something seem grand just to make your piece sound loud and overly energetic. Avoid the fuss, and more importantly, avoid highlighting what everyone else notices about a place.
What’s unexpected? What’s unusual? Beyond the surface-level appeal, what’s the real draw to a place or a region? Think about the things that excite you about a part of the world you’re writing about and your writing will reflect that energy.
Show don’t tell
Ah, yes, that popular writing instruction. And yet, it’s amazing how many writers don’t actually adhere to it.
They tell you a place is a great. They tell you that the restaurant is popular. They tell you the food is divine. But they never go deep into why those attributes apply.
Use anecdotes. Use specific examples. Let the reader come to those final conclusions themselves.