how to stop boring your readers

Posted by & filed under Travel Writing.

Before I launch into these eight important tips for improving a story about yourself and your own travels, let me say that this list isn’t really mine.

It’s pulled, mostly, from advice I asked of a travel writer and friend based in Paris, Rose Marie Burke.

Her engaging accounts of her own travels have appeared in The Wall Street Journal, the International Herald Tribune, France Today, and elsewhere.

Clearly, she knows what she’s doing.

And I couldn’t imagine a better-qualified person to ask about this subject.

So, without further ado, here’s what you need to remember when you’re telling your own story from your own point of view.

Follow these guidelines, and you’ll be sure to engage your reader rather than bore him to death. And, because of that, you’ll sell more stories.

1. Don’t tell your story chronologically.

If you’re story begins: “I called the taxi and trudged my bags to the curb, waiting in sandals in 30-degree cold, my mind on the Caribbean,” you aren’t off to a stellar start. Put your reader in the action.

2. Highlight the highpoints of your trip.

You take notes in chronological order.

That’s why you’re inclined to write your story that way.

It’s an okay place to start.

You can even type up your notes in sentence form. But this produces only a very rough draft.

With it as your starting point, take a highlighter and mark the most interesting things that happened on the trip.

Then rank them in importance.

What counts as “interesting?” Think misadventure.

Think highlight.

Did the hotel lose your reservation? Did you find a shop that carried exactly the sort of hand-painted statue you’d been searching for in backwater shops all over Latin America?

3. Start a new draft.

Having identified the most interesting parts of your trip, start over, putting one of them first. You’ll want to begin your story from a memorable moment — one, as Rose puts it, “filled with adventure, accident, and discovery.”

4. Ask yourself: Is this the subject of my article? Is this my “story idea?”

You want your initial story to illustrate your main idea.

In other words, if the main idea you want to get across about your travels in Nicaragua is that it’s an astonishingly affordable country, then don’t start with a story about how you paid $200 for a hotel in Managua one night.

Instead, start with the image of the innkeeper in San Juan del Sur handing you a bill for your three-night stay — just $120 — and you asking if there’s been a mistake. What about your meals? Included, she says.

Now that helps make your point about what a good-value destination Nicaragua can be.

5. Tuck relevant details into the story.

As Rose says, “You won’t use every factoid that you dutifully noted in your travelogue. Let it go… tell one story at a time.” She’s right. If what you’ve written isn’t relevant, leave it out.

6. Show – don’t tell.

Show your reader the destination through action and through rich, specific description.

Don’t just say “the waves off Vancouver Island are big and dangerous.” Instead, quote a local who says, “About seven years ago three British tourists got caught on the rocks.

They were mushed to hamburger. They often have to identify the victims by their dental records.” (as quoted in Islands magazine, November 2003)

7. Show how the trip changed your life.

“Your best ‘memorable moment’ will be the one that brings about a change in you — physically, psychologically, or otherwise,” says Rose.

Did you dread the idea of being trapped on a cruise ship only to discover it provided plenty of time to explore the places where you docked?

Did you expect the fancy resort where you stayed in Belize to be just another mini-Florida, only to discover that it offered lots of local character and food and music?

8. Limit your “I’s.”

Once you’ve written a good draft, print it out, get a pen, and circle every “I,” “we,” and “us.” Now cut out as many of them as you can. If you can keep them to one a paragraph — ideally even fewer — it’s probably safe to say that you’re telling your story without getting in the way of it.