Guide To Travel Writing
Updated: Apr 2, 2021
Here at Soneva, we don’t only run the bookshops, we also host activities and session, such as our Creative Writing Classes. To switch things up a little this week, take a look at the lesson plan I provide my students when teaching travel writing – an understandably popular subject given what guests are doing when they take the class.
3. Edit your experiences
4. Vivid language
5. First Paragraph Hook!
6. Include Dialogue
7. Show! Don’t tell!
8. Entertain! Not impress
10. Give yourself time to finish!
With thanks to Wanderlust for the 10 starting points
1 – Purpose and goal! Regardless of what you are writing, there is always going to be a purpose and/or a goal to the project. This can be as big or small as you want it to be. It can be simply writing for yourself, for your friends and family, for practice or for publication in a magazine. For me, my goal – when writing anything – is first to tell myself a story, and then to entertain my readers and hone my skills. Regardless of what your goal is, always keep it in mind so that you can return to it to remind yourself why you are writing what you are.
2 – Storyline! Travel writing might be based on real-life events, but it is a story we are telling ourselves and readers. Which means plotting and drafting. While in fictional writing, you can choose to wing it – as I am partial to – in travel writing, you can’t simply make it up as you go along. We need the structure there to help us write the story as it should be. So, think back on your trip so far. Take several moments – be they the trip to the airport, the departures, the flight, the arrival, check-in, first activity, anything! – note them down and write out some memorable moments from each.
3 – You’ve got your ideas now we edit. We approach travel writing the same way we approach writing a fictional book. We don’t need to put in every itty-bitty detail that leads to large tangents and adds too much extra that readers forget where they’re travelling to. Just remember, when writing, looking at the experience you’re putting in and answer these questions:
Does it relate to the current narrative I’m telling?
Does it distract too much from the mina plotline?
Does it really add anything to the world I am creating for my readers?
Is it special enough and important enough to me that it absolutely has to go in?
4 – LANGUAGE!! Language, language, language! We will look into this in more depth as we go, but always remember you are telling a story and the language controls how your readers respond to it. You’re not simply telling them facts about where you went, you are sitting at a dinner table, recounting adventures. You want to make them laugh hysterically, cry with empathy and cringe with second-hand embarrassment.
Think of what you have experienced so far – big or small moment – and write out 10 – 20 words you would use as descriptors to make your reader travel alongside you on this journey.
5 – First Hook! This is an area where many a writer gets stuck, but it is also extremely important to your story. The pitfall most writers land in however is they write the opening to their work, look at it, and then try to perfect it. And perfect it again. And again. And again, and again, and again. It’s never going to be perfect. And what writers do there is they spend so much time trying to get the start right, they don’t write anything else of their book. So, we want to avoid that trap. But we also have to remain aware that this opening is going to be what hooks readers in.
Think about where you want your travels to start, and write a short opening paragraph. Don’t worry about getting it right, it is all about getting it down. You will later on – in the editing fazes – go back and draft, redraft, reedit, redesign and restart it until you are as happy as you can be.
6 – Dialogue! My favourite part of writing. Core to travel writing, and unlike travel guides, we must add dialogue. We are bringing cities and landscapes to life and where there are people, there is conversation. Dialogue is notoriously hard to make natural, but the only way to hone that skill is to listen to people and write down.
Below, think of a conversation you’ve heard recently and write it out. But go beyond what was just said. People never simply say things and we never simply listen. We observe and examine so that what is being said it only the beginning.
“Good morning! How are you today?” he asked in a chirpy tone that was far too perky and bright for so early in the day. A morning person if ever there was one!
7 – Show! Don’t Tell!
Don’t Tell Me the Moon Is Shining; Show Me the Glint of Light on Broken Glass
It’s hard. Trust me, I know it can be so hard! But it’s extremely important in travel writing to not simply tell a reader where you are, but SHOW them what the place looks like. Your job as the writer is to allow the reader to be transported on this journey along with you rather than leaving them behind in their armchair merely reading words on a page in a living room. We cannot simply tell a reader about white sands and blue seas; we have to show them how the sand is so fine it’s like soft power under the soles of bare feet as it trickles through your toes like tiny waterfalls, and it is so pristine and light, that if the sun catches the sands as just the right angle, it can blind you.
Take a moment to think of a scene, and then write it. Give the backdrop flare and life so that it no longer stands as the painted scenery on a stage, but the setting readers walk through.
8 – Entertain! Don’t impress. Don’t boast. Don’t show off. We’re not gloating when we talk about our travels. We’re guiding people along on a journey with us, letting them experience what we experience vicariously through us.
9 – Signpost! Travel writing is not the same as writing a travel guide, but people will still plan their trips around what they read so they can have the same experiences. Make sure you point out where you go and how you got there – even if it’s just in passing by saying it’s was the number 11 bus. Plot the route out for your readers.
10 – if you are writing to a deadline, give yourself time!! You will need to be able to go back and edit. You’ll want to expand, contract, rewrite and delete so make sure you always have time for the second, third, fourth or more draft that you will want to write.
And remember to enjoy writing it!
Writing is like travelling. It should be a joy.
For more Travel Writing Advice, check out this great site! Travel Writing World to get your adventure started!