Guidelines for starting a travel story
Remember standing up if front of your primary school class and reciting “what I did in my holidays”? Did they stay awake? The same is true for travel writing and unless you grab your audience’s attention early, you’ve lost them forever.
“We did this” and “then we went there” are the travel writing equivalent of watching paint dry. Travel writing needs colour and excitement. It needs to transport the reader into the middle of the location, immerse them in the experience and leave them wanting more.
When I’m trying to start a story, I always remember some advice given to me by Don George of Lonely Planet.
“Find the passion point,” he told me.
By this, Don means pinpoint the one key moment in your journey, trip or experience that encapsulates the event. It might be an encounter with an interesting person (this is always good) or a moment of visual climax that was why you went there in the first place. There are no rules to this except to say that if the moment excited you for whatever reasons, then chances are if communicated correctly, it will excite your reader too.
The theory behind this is as much to capture the attention of a commissioning editor as it is to immediately glue your reader to the rest of the story. If you can’t get attention in the first paragraph, or two, then you don’t have a story – or not a saleable one anyway.
Hence, your first paragraph should begin with this event and your last paragraph should be the resolution or conclusion of this event ie the lasting experience or lesson you derived from this event. That way your reader will continue through the story, picking up the important practical information and advice you also want to impart before the finale. Here is where you might want to include the input from your host if this was a sponsored trip, perhaps in the form of a quote pulled from a short interview.