Excerpt from Chapter 4: Capturing the Scene
This is an excerpt from the bestselling book, Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals (and still have time to enjoy your trip!) by Dave Fox.You can order autographed copies on this website or download it for Kindle.
Scanning Your Senses, Picturing the Scene
Before you start writing about your outer journey, take a moment to picture yourself back in the scene you want to cover. This brings the day’s details to the forefront of your mind. Close your eyes if you like. (If you are jetlagged, however, be careful not to start snoring.) Recall the events of your day. As you do this, scan through each of your senses – sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.
We’ve got five senses, but they’re not equal. The focus of our senses shifts from situation to situation. Ponder for a moment which of your five senses would be the dominant ones in the following situations:
- Spotting a rainbow from a moving train
- Wandering through a spice market
- Eating a gooey, chocolate dessert
- Going to a concert
- Watching a fireworks display
- Splashing in an icy stream
…Our dominant sense in any given situation often seems like the most important one, and there’s a tendency to ignore or simply not notice the others. But when we fail to check out the other senses, we risk missing big details. This is why it’s so important to do a quick scan of all of your senses — not just the ones that stand out the strongest.
If you’ve ever taken a writing class, there’s a cliché you might have heard:
Show. Don’t tell.
Those three words, when fully understood, are some of the best writing advice in the whole world. (Also, “Don’t poke your eye out with a pencil,” is eight other good words of advice.)
Second only to the time issue, the most common frustration I hear from students in my journaling classes is their writing in the past has felt flat and lifeless. This is usually because they are telling instead of showing. I’ll give you an example.
During the summer, I guide tours in Scandinavia. On one afternoon, we take a boat ride through the Norwegian fjords. The fjords in western Norway are so spectacular, National Geographic once rated them the most beautiful tourist destination in the world.
People on my tours glide through this spectacular scenery, and when they journal about it, they write, “The fjords were beautiful.”
This is not a newsflash. Norway’s fjords have been beautiful for thousands of years. We expect them to be beautiful before we ever see them. When we do see them, they meet that expectation. If we return home and someone asks us how the fjords were, they probably already know the fjords are beautiful. They want to know more. Writing that the fjords are beautiful tells very little.
Some people take this journaling mistake even further. “The fjords were soooo beautiful!” they write. “The fjords were the most beautiful place I have ever seen!”
If these journalers are REALLY feeling PASSIONATE about how beautiful the fjords were, they might add to the excitement with lots of CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION MARKS!!!!!!”
They have written nothing of substance.
Don’t tell me the fjords are beautiful. Show me – with lots of detail. What is it about the fjords that makes them so breathtaking? The swooping, dark granite cliffs? The sparkly clean, turquoise waters? The little maroon farmhouses that freckle the nearby land? For me, part of the fjords’ beauty is the seagulls. The birds follow the boats, squawking and flapping their wings with a grace that to them is second nature. Glacier-fed waterfalls send an icy mist plunging toward rocks below. On a foggy day, the haze that settles over the water is so mystical, you expect at any moment to see a real live troll come lumbering down the mountains to grumble at you.
Details like these breathe life into your journals. If you’re journaling for yourself, these details will keep your memories bright and clear long after you’ve returned home. If you choose to share your journals with others, people need these details in order to really feel like they were there with you….