Have you ever eaten an eyeball? Me either. Dissecting one in biology class was enough. But I’ve done a bit of writing and read a lot of travel articles and blogs, so I thought I’d share some tips I’ve picked up along the way…
Beyond the daily grind
Sometimes it’s hard to know where to start your travel story. Which makes it too easy to get caught up in an (endless) checklist of your day, from the time you open your eyes to the moment you fall into bed exhausted after visiting 24 churches and museums.
Avoid starting with ‘I woke up in the morning’, because that’s kind-of obvious, right? Unless you woke up in your hotel surrounded by water after torrential rains caused flash flooding.
And we don’t need to know that you ate breakfast before setting off – unless you’re in a Mongolian yurt eating pickled sheep eyeballs.
Find the hook
Remember as a kid telling a story? It went from ‘and then and then and then’ to the climax – while your parents developed the art of sleeping with their eyes open.
That was then… Now your online readers are gone in the click of a mouse, so you need to hook them into your story. Here’s a clue: start with the action.
Tell me you took a long haul flight from Australia, had a six hour stopover in Beijing, did some duty free shopping, and – I’m gone.
Start with those eyeballs and you’ve got me hooked. Then I want to know what you’re doing there, how you got there, and what you’re getting up to next.
How do you find the action? First write the whole blog, then do some serious editing, pulling the action up-front, and re-crafting the piece so it all works.
Finally, wrap it all up by bringing the focus (or action) back into your ending. You started eating eyeballs, now you’re ending with another meal around a fire. Maybe you spent the day with nomadic shepherds and shared a meal with them, serenaded by the quiet bleats of sleepy sheep – no pickled eyeballs in sight.
Take me there
Tell me what it’s like to be there, and tell it with all your senses. Take me there through the smells, tastes, colour and movement around you – and don’t skip over the anxiety, the fear, the loathing, because those are what make you human.
It’s also what brings your story to life. Can’t you just feel that eyeball pop between your teeth and the warm jelly stuff inside squirting down your throat? But you can’t spit out this delicacy and offend your hosts, so you anxiously try not to gag while you work up the courage to swallow it. And you’re a vegetarian.
Keep it short
Applying the KISS principle (keep it simple for success) to writing is my life work, I’m sure. As a writer and editor, reading ‘brain dumps’ just feels like work. Hard work.
And that’s the writer’s job, not the reader’s. And yes, it is definitely harder to write ‘short’ and keep it simple. It requires editing (read: slash and burn) and losing some parts you’re attached to because they don’t advance your story.
Earlier, I had a bit about walking out of Indira Gandhi International Airport into a wet wall of heat and being enveloped in the heavy rancid odour of rotting vegetation or something festy I didn’t want to think about. Gone. Well, it’s here, but you get my point. I stuck with the eyeballs, as you do.
Tell me a story
Most of all, tell me a story. Talk to the locals, use interpretive dance if you have to. Find the funny side or the dark side.
Take me beyond the guide book, down the back alleys and side streets, away from the tick-off tourist sites and photo opportunities, and into your adventure.
Because travel is about living at the edge of your comfort zone. So go there, and tell me what it’s really like. You may inspire me to follow you…