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Be Your Own Travel Writing Coach

Use This Questionnaire to Critique Your Travel Writing

By Dave Fox

Photo: Mikhail Kryshen / flickr

Having a writing coach, a writing partner, or a writer’s group to critique your travel writing is invaluable in helping you catch negative writing habits and weak spots in your stories.

It’s also possible to critique your own work, however, and doing so will improve your writing in the long run. If you are wanting to learn how to become a travel writer, you can use the self-critique questionnaire below to evaluate your stories and look for ways to improve them.

I developed this questionnaire to help students in my online travel writing course. I’m also posting it here for anyone to use. (Please note, this is offered for personal use and may not be redistributed to others or published without my permission.)

If you would like more in-depth, professional feedback on your writing, please visit my writing coach page. I work with writers in a wide range of genres and coach students all over the world via Skype, FaceTime, and phone. (I live in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and am also available for in-person coaching sessions if you happen to be here.)

You can also download a printable, PDF version of this questionnaire. The printable version does not include all of the instructions and suggestions you see on this page; however, it has space after each question for you to fill in your answers.

 

How to Use this Self-Critique Travel Writing Questionnaire

When you finish writing a story, use the questions below to analyze your writing and make sure your story is as strong as it can be. If you’re feeling stuck on something, you’ll find more info at the end of this page on how I can help.

Ready? Let’s go!

 

Your Lead

The view of Bùi Viện Street from one of my many makeshift offices.

Does your lead paragraph immediately hook your reader?

If yes, how and why? What grabs readers’ attention in the first paragraph? Why will they want to keep reading?

If you answered no:

  • Are you leading with too much “back story” – too much extraneous information that isn’t relevant to the tale at hand, or which is necessary for your story but could be saved for later in the story?
  • Read through your story and find the most exciting moment. Could this moment, or a moment of tension just before it, make for a good in medias res lead (a lead that starts “in the middle of things” and then backtracks to fill in the gaps?

Is there anything further down in the story that would also make for a good lead?

  • If yes, would this be stronger than your current lead? (Also remember, you can publish different versions of the same story in different publications, so having two or more possible leads is a great thing!)

 

The Body of Your Story

What is the conflict or challenge in your story? Why does this conflict matter?

  • If your story doesn’t have any conflict, is that okay or is something missing? (Destination pieces describing five-star resorts don’t necessarily need conflict. Narrative non-fiction, personal essays, etc., generally do.)

Does each paragraph have a purpose that moves your story in the direction of your conclusion?

  • Are there any unnecessary tangents you could cut out of this story?
  • Remember: Sometimes these tangents can be entirely different stories. Save them for a different article!
  • Also remember: Sometimes it feels painful to cut information from your story, but after you do it, you realize your story becomes much more readable. If you’re feeling uncertain, save a duplicate copy and cut one version. Then, if you’re not under a deadline, leave it alone for an hour or a day. Go back and read it when your mind is fresh, and see how you like the shortened version.

Is your writing as crisp and tight as it can be?

  • Have you done a sentence-by-sentence read of your story to weed out unnecessary words, shorten or delete lengthy phrases, etc.?

 

Characters

Who are the characters in your story? Why do they matter?

  • If you are the only character, does that work for this particular story?
  • Is there anyone else you should add for a diversity of voices? (Sometimes, it’s fine that you are the only character.)

Have you described your characters in a way that your readers will be able to see and hear them? Will we feel like we are meeting them with you?

  • How much description you should give a character depends on the type of story and the situation. For example, if you’re interviewing a researcher for a journalism-style article about sea turtle rehabilitation on Borneo, simply telling us she is a marine biologist is all we need to know. Her accent, hair color, mannerisms, etc., don’t matter. On the other hand, if you are sipping coffee with an elderly gentleman who is telling you his life story, or falling in love with a mysterious stranger, or arguing with somebody who is trying to rip you off, these richer details become relevant. They help readers connect with and better understand these emotionally charged situations.

Have you included direct or indirect quotes from other people in your story? How do they help the story? Are there any places in your story that would be livelier with quotes added?

  • If using direct quotes, be sure you understand the importance of accuracy, which is covered in the “Writing Dialogue” lesson of Section 4.
  • If writing for a journalism-based publication, are you certain your quotes are correct and exact?
  • If writing narrative non-fiction (a personal travel tale), do your quotes sound realistic? (Read them out loud if you’re not sure and see if they sound natural.)
  • If you’ve used direct quotes, have you kept your attributions simple, sticking to words like, “said,” as opposed to, “exclaimed,” or “pontificated?”
  • Are there any sections of dialogue where you don’t need any attribution at all? (If there’s a conversation happening, once you cue us into who is talking at the beginning, readers will get it if you continue the dialogue without phrases like, “he said / she said.” Paragraph breaks will signal us that you’re toggling between two people.)

 

Ego Check

Are there any spots in your story in which you should consider toning down your ego?

  • Keeping one’s ego out of a story is a challenge many writers face, especially when writing about our own experiences. Sometimes, a story is entirely about us, and sometimes, that’s okay. What annoys readers is a tone that says, “Look what I did! Look how cool I am!” without any further purpose. Are there any spots in which you do this?
  • One way to test this is to ask yourself: “What am I offering my reader right now?” If you answer, “This will make them laugh,” “This will make them sniffle,” or “This will teach them something about the world,” then you’re probably doing okay. If, on the other hand, your only answer is, “I hope they’ll be really impressed by what I did,” then see if you can offer something more.

 

Conclusion and General Review

Does your story end on a meaningful note? If yes, what makes it meaningful? If not, what is missing.

  • Why will people feel that it was worth their time (and sometimes money) to read your story?
  • What emotions will readers feel?
  • What have you taught them?

Are there any loose ends or unanswered questions?

  • Any blanks you need to fill in?
  • If you do have unanswered questions, would it be better to give an answer or delete the question?
  • Is there anything you started talking about in your story that you didn’t follow through with? (You don’t want people saying, “But what ever happened with _______?”)
  • If there are missing details, where could you add them?
  • Or … if there are missing details, is it because you started referring to something in your rough draft that ended up not mattering? (Sometimes the solution to an unanswered question in an article is to remove the question rather than add the answer.)

 

Final Thoughts

Has your story met at least one of the following goals?:

  • Inform
  • Inspire
  • Entertain
  • If you answered yes to the above question, which of the above goals have you fulfilled, and how?

What do you like best about your story?

Is there anything in your story you are not happy with? Can you think of ways to fix this?

Is there anything you feel stuck with? Anything specific you need help with, or parts of your story you’re feeling unsure about?

  • If you’re enrolled in my online travel writing course on Udemy, feel free to post your story on the course’s Q&A forum, along with specific questions about your story for me and your fellow students to consider.
  • If you’re enrolled in my Udemy course, please be specific with your questions. I’m happy to answer questions such as, “I’m not sure my lead is working. What do you think?” or, “My writing feels too wordy. How can I condense it?”
  • A thorough, paragraph-by-paragraph critique of a 600-800 word story takes me about an hour and we’ve got six story writing exercises in this course. Because Udemy sells my courses at very low prices, I thank you for understanding that I can’t respond to broad questions such as “Could you please read all of my stories and give me feedback.” But hey, if you’re eager to learn more and you’d like some one-on-one coaching, that’s great! Please keep reading for info on how we can work together.

 

Want More Help?

If you’d like some in-depth, detailed, professional critiquing of your writing, I offer one-on-one writer coaching and life coaching via Skype, phone, FaceTime, and e-mail. (And in person if you happen to be in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, where I live.)

For details on how to hire me as your coach, please check out my writing coach page.

 

Super-Affordable Online Travel Writing Courses

When I started teaching travel writing online more than a decade ago, my workshops cost $389 and included many hours of my personal feedback on students’ writing assignments. I now offer a much cheaper, do-it-yourself version of my online travel writing course on Udemy. (The preceding link includes a coupon code to let you enroll for just $12.99!)

What’s the difference between my older, more expensive travel writing course and my low-priced workshop on Udemy? The Udemy course includes all of the same lessons and information as my original course (plus some new bonus material). It is, however, in more of a do-it-yourself format. The $389 version included six detailed, paragraph-by paragraph story critiques from me, plus six weeks of daily, online check-ins for students to talk about their writing.

If you’ve completed a writing exercise for my Udemy course and filled out this self-critique questionnaire, and there’s something you’re struggling with, I’m happy to answer specific questions if you post them along with your story in Udemy’s Q&A forums. Please do be specific. (For example: “How I can improve my lead?” or “I’m having trouble tightening my writing. Could you look at a couple of paragraphs and give me suggestions?” or “Does the dialogue in my story work for you or does it sound stilted?” are all great questions.)

Because Udemy sells my workshops at very low prices, I can’t respond to broad requests such as, “Please read my stories and offer feedback.” (The course includes six story assignments, and a detailed, paragraph-by-paragraph critique of a 600-800 word story takes me about an hour per story. I’ll let you do the math there.)

If the more in-depth, more expensive version of this course sounds better to you, you can still have all the feedback I used to offer! Just sign up for a some one-on-one writer coaching sessions to go along with the course. You can do as many or as few sessions as you would like, and you can choose between detailed written critiques, live conversations online, or a combination of the two. Drop me an e-mail if you’d like more info.

Published on Thursday, August 23, 2018

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