Travel Writing Tips for Beginners: How to Structure Your Travel Tales
Part two in this week’s three-part series: Beginnings, Middles, and Endings
By Dave Fox
Tioman Island, Malaysia
Welcome to part two in this three-part series on how to turn your travel diaries into publishable travel tales. In part one, we looked at writing about specific events or topics rather than skimming the surface of an entire trip. Today, we explore how to structure those stories – the beginning, the middle, and the end.
Start with a compelling lead. Your “lead” paragraph must reel in readers right away. If you can’t hook them in the first 35 words, chances are you’re going to lose them. You’ve dreamed for years of visiting Africa? That’s not an exciting first sentence. You’re on a trip with your significant other? That’s not interesting either. You taught Kalahari Bushmen how to play Frisbee? Now we’re getting somewhere. Many beginning travel writers clog their leads with too much background information. When they do this, readers never get to the exciting part. An audience will move on to something else if the beginning of a story is mundane. So pounce into the action right away. Make your theme clear and enticing at the outset.
Develop your story thematically or chronologically, but keep it moving. Many travel tales unfold with a simple chronological sequence. Others follow a series of scenes or anecdotes. Let’s go back to that flan in Guadalajara we talked about in part one of this series. After your first toe-curling taste, you decide to embark on a weeklong mission to find the best flan in town. Over the next seven days, you scarf down twelve helpings of the caramelly custard. You might write about your five or six favorites. And maybe a couple of not-so-favorites. You don’t have to cover them in the order you ate them. Instead, write in the order that best builds excitement. Just as you want to catch readers’ attention right away with a strong lead, the body of your story must hold readers’ fascination by maintaining – and ideally increasing – the action and energy. Occasionally, you need to include a detail that’s not so enthralling to keep the story flowing. That’s okay, but get through those points concisely. Move on quickly and then zing your readers with more thrills.
End with a lesson, a discovery, or a personal transformation. Riding into the proverbial sunset can be a natural way to end a tale but you’ll conclude on a more powerful note if you demonstrate some sort of transformation. Have you learned something new about yourself or the world? Changed your way of thinking or seen somebody else change theirs? Big insights come frequently when we’re away from our everyday world and culture. Share those insights with your readers so those who wander vicariously through your writing can share in your discoveries.
Want to Learn More?
I offer two fun and super-informative online workshops to help you become a travel writer. Once you sign up, you can watch the video lessons and do the writing exercises whenever you have time. You get lifetime membership in the course and each workshop comes with a 30-day money-back guarantee. Follow the links below for discount coupons, free sample lessons, and all the details!
- Globejotting: How to Write Extraordinary Travel Journals offers creative and effective techniques to capture the most exciting details of your trips. You’ll discover how to splash lots of bold detail into your travel diary – quickly – so that journaling enhances your journeys rather than gobbling up precious vacation time. Includes 75 minutes of lessons plus fun writing exercises and access to our online classroom. Usual price: US $25. Sign up here for just $18.
- Travel Writing: Explore the World and Publish Your Stories picks up where the above course leaves off. Learn how to turn your “rough draft” journals into polished travel tales that readers (and editors) will love! Share your adventures with friends and family, post them on a blog, or publish them professionally in newspapers, magazines, and anthology books. This comprehensive travel writing course includes three-and-a-half hours of video lessons plus hands-on writing exercises and access to our online forums. Usual price: US $65. Sign up here for just $35.
- Part 1: Travel Writing Tips for Beginners: Get Specific
- Part 2: How to Structure Your Travel Tales
- Part 3: Putting the Final Sparkle in Your Stories
If you’ve got questions about travel writing, I’m happy to answer them! You can send them to me on the Ask Dave page and I’ll try to cover them in a future online column.