9 Weekly Travel writing tips |

9 Weekly Travel writing tips

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3 January 2010

"Oh no! Not another bozo who is going to tell us how to write a travel article. Welcome to the digital age, dumbass, try Google for a change and you might find out that the internet is full of people like you that think they can summarize the life of a travel writer!"

You don't have to deny it, I can hear you all thinking the same: "Why should we read another couple of tips on how to write?"

And you're right, if you perform a Google search on "travel writing tips", you'll find a huge load of results, so why read my tips instead of the once from others?
Because mine are better of course!
Yeah I wish. The thing is that I don't really have a good reason, but I figured, why wouldn't you read mine? Now that you're here anyway, you could at least give it a try.

I've decided not to present you the regular overview of tips, but to post only one tip a week. This enables me to dig deeper into the subjects, give more additional information and who knows, maybe we can even get a small discussion going.

So what are we waiting for?


Let's start!

1st Weekly travel writing tip: Be a writer

That sounds like an easy one, doesn't it? To write you have to be a writer, you have to know how to write.
But if I write something down, this actually means I can write, so I'm a writer, right? WRONG! It's not because you can put words on a sheet of paper that you can actually write. You need to be able to create sentences, preferably without mistakes, and to use words from a wide vocabulary. And even if that works well, you're still far off.

Let me say it this way, if you were never good at writing an essay, maybe writing isn't something for you. That doesn't mean that you're dumb or anything, it just means that you should probably focus your career at something else.

That said, let's have a look at what you write. One thing that is very important in - travel, but also other kinds of - writing is that your readers must be able to visualize the place, person of situation that you're talking about. For example, you could write "I fell in love with a very pretty girl". Well good for you, and?. You may have fallen madly in love with that girl, it doesn't do anything to me. No emotions are coming up, honestly, I don't give a damn.
What you want to do is describe the girl, tell me how she looked, give me details, the colour of her eyes and if she had sparkles in it, tell me how she was dressed, how her figure looked like, how she smelled, how her voice sounded. If you kissed her, tell me how she tasted and how her body felt next to yours. You need to make me wish that I had met that girl.
Lots of people only write what they see, and that's a big mistake. You have four more senses, use them! Write how something feels, smells and tastes and if possible, try to explain the sound of it.
This paragraph is actually a summary of an article I've once written, so if you want to read more about this, have a look at How to start writing a travel story .

Another good way to make people visualize your writings is by making comparisons. If you read a book from Bill Bryson or Paul Theroux, you'll see that their stories are full of comparisons and I know that I also tend to forget about this. While I'm writing a travel story I should actually have some kind of screen popping up that says "make comparisons" every five minutes or so.
What are they good for? Mostly they are used to let your users make a link between something they don't really know and something they know very well. You could try to describe a certain beach, but you could also say "Every moment, I was expecting to see David Hasselhoff and Pam Anderson run by in their red bathing suit". Everybody has an image of the Baywatch beach somewhere in the back of his head. You could try to explain that you're not feeling well, but saying that you "felt like you've been a whole out on Tequila and rum" will more or less give everyone the picture.
Secondly, you could also use comparisons as exaggeration. For example: "it's hard to describe the smell of that dish, but I bet that if shit could shit it would smell quite similar" or "he looked like he was the hidden son of Ugly Betty and the Hunchback of Notre Dame". Readers are not able to make an exact image, but you make them think of the smelliest or ugliest thing they've ever seen.

Many travel writers also make the mistake of providing too many personal details. You always need to think "if I didn't know myself, would I find this interesting". Most people don't really want to read which clothes you're wearing, what you ate for breakfast and that you've read 20 pages from a certain book. Unless of course, you have to wear clothes that are still soaking wet from the day before, your breakfast consisted of local bugs and you could recommend the book to people taking a similar trip. Also, don't try to write everything you do. It can be very annoying to read something like "and then I did this, and then I did that and I went to diner and then I did this again and then I did another thing...”.
A rule of thumb, if the only thing you have to tell about a place is that you've been there, leave it out. Try to remember that people who don't know you, generally don't give a damn where you do or do not go. They only want to read it if it's followed by something that's interesting for them. Don't tell what you ate unless it was really good, really bad or really authentic. This counts for everything, where you slept, who you met, what you've seen, if it wasn't special in any positive or negative way and you don't have any details or curiosities to tell about it, leave it out.
One last thing about this, if you follow these tips your mom will hate your story, because she likes everything the other readers don't. The only thing she cares about is that her baby is alright and she wants to know he or she has decent food, a decent place to sleep and meets regular people.
My mom even complains that I don't have photos on my website with myself on it.
"But Mom, personal pictures are on Facebook"
"What's Facebook dear?"
You know how this goes.
By the way, it can be a quite similar situation with your boyfriend / girlfriend too.

Next thing you should think about is to use paragraphs, especially if you're writing a story, an article or a blog post. People don't seem to like to read one full text, they seem to like it to be divided in smaller parts - unless it's a book. Paragraphs give readers a reading pause. If they need to go to the bathroom, between two paragraphs is a good moment. For the writer, the start of a new paragraph is a great time to switch subjects.
Try to make sure that your paragraphs are not too long and that they are opened and closed correctly. If you like to learn more about paragraphs, here's a good WiKi.

The last thing I would like to mention here is the use of other people's stories. This is normally done by quotes - if someone said something that you would like to use - or by dialogs - if you like to rephrase a conversation.
When you quote someone, always try to mention whose words you're using. Using someone’s words like they are your own might make you look smart to some readers but others will recognize the quote and think that you're just an asshole that can't invent his own words.
Dialogs are used for presenting man/woman to man/woman conversations. Sometimes you can write down a conversation with three persons, but that's enough. A four people dialog is just too confusing.
Dialogs are quite easy to write because you just have to write down what someone said, and people tend to like to read dialogs, as long as they don't go on and on forever. So try to insert a dialog somewhere in your story, but keep it short and only say the things that really matter. You don't have to copy exactly what someone said, you can leave out the stuff that doesn't matter.

This is enough for this week, I guess. I hope you liked it and if you have any comments, I'd like to hear them.
Next week there's another tip, if you don't want to miss it you can always subscribe to my RSS or my mailing list.
Have fun writing and remember what I always say: "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there".
Just kidding, that's a Lewis Carroll quote.

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