Wednesday, June 15, 2011


TBEX 2011 in Vancouver delivered two excellent sessions on narrative travel writing led by writers and editors from Gadling, National Geographic, the San Francisco Chronicle and other leading markets.
Don Brown, Gadling ©KirstenAlanaPhotography/Galavanting
Narrative writing is the art of creative nonfiction applied to travel stories. The first session included the definition, structure, tips and pitfalls - the requirements are much the same as for any article. The second was a insightful critique of participants' "leads."

Many travel writers' leads were bland and often started in the wrong place, or were not congruent with the angle of their pieces. The experts' tips that resonated for me included:
  1. Identify your angle or focus before you start writing if you can - this may take some effort on your part or may change during the visit. Then choose a person, place, event, or artifact to ground your story.
  2. Your lead sentence should flow from the most dramatic scene or emotional moment in the story, and must create tension. I never expected to come face to face with the barrel of a machine gun in Red Square.
  3. Your "nut graph" or angle/focus paragraph can follow the lead or appear later in the story. Your angle could be a quest, overcoming a fear, the unknown in a tourist trap, or busting a misconception. An angle is not "why you went." (See #5.)
  4. Don't use a news peg because it will be out of date in an article pubbed a month or six later. (May be okay for a blog post.)
  5. Start your piece in the heart of your destination; do not start with travelling there unless this is your angle.
  6. Avoid explaining why you went as a lead - this must be implicit in the story.
I would add one more tip - have your articles critiqued by other writers (not relatives!).

QUESTION: What are your tips for travel article leads?

Andrew Evans, Nat Geog. ©KirstenAlanaPhotography/Galavanting

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