Last summer, I had the honor of judging the Best Responsible Tourism Story Award for a certain country’s society of travel writers. I had been invited to do this by an editor I work with and who also happens to be vice president of the society.
I noticed something important: A number of elements separated the winning travel stories from the rest. And guess what? These are things that you can incorporate into your articles to ensure that they are winners, too.
For the contest, the judging criteria consisted of three categories:
1. The creativity and originality of the story.
2. How well researched the information in the story was.
3. How much the story makes you want to repeat the experience or do something similar.
So what set apart the winners?
First, a clear sense of place. While it’s fine to tease the reader for a paragraph or two as to where you are, it shouldn’t take eight paragraphs until I figure out the subject. (And that was indeed the case with one entry!)
On the same tack, some of the stories felt as if they had been cobbled together from press releases. There was nothing telling me that the writer had actually visited the place.
Don’t leave readers hanging
If you start your piece with a question or a mystery, make sure you answer it. Using this technique is a great way to pique interest from your reader.
However, in the case of one entry, it was difficult to see how a sign that the writer talked about at the beginning related to the rest of the story, leaving me with an unsatisfied feeling.
Use local color
Bring local people into your story. In the case of one entry, the writer had talked only to tour operators but included no local color. It was boring.
Stories that used quotes and anecdotes about locals tended to be much more satisfying.
Check and double-check your work
Make sure there are no grammar or spelling mistakes. The articles I judged were meant to be the edited print versions; however, some still had mistakes. Others with editing for flow worked better.
Don’t forget the ending
We often talk about how important the beginning of the article is, but the end is almost as important. A number of the entries I read had very good beginning and middle sections, but they fell apart or flat at the end.
Ideally, you need to find a way of rounding off your article. This could be by bringing the reader back to something at the beginning—such as the answer to a mystery you brought up earlier. Or your article could reach a natural conclusion, such as describing the end of the day.
What your story should not do is leave the reader with an uneasy feeling, thinking, “Is that it?” and searching for a continuation on another page.