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Too much "I" and "we." That's the most common mistake I see in articles by new travel writers. It's not that you shouldn't tell your own story from your point of view -- successful travel writers do that regularly.
In a recent Sunday Travel section of the New York Times, for instance, six of the seven feature articles were told in the first person -- that is, using "I" and "we."
And those Big Apple editors are hardly alone in their enthusiasm for this personal point of view. Flip through any travel publication these days, and it's nearly all you see.
But seasoned writers practice something budding writers typically don't: restraint.
As a character in your own travel story, you must ensure you're a good traveling companion. Think about it this way: Surely you have friends you're very fond of but with whom you'd never dream of taking a trip. You know they'd be too fussy too bossy too uptight too lazy
When you're writing your story from your point of view, you're essentially asking a reader to join you on your journey. And if it's to be a successful trip, you must prove yourself enjoyable company. Here's how:
Less About You, More About What You See and Do
Imagine you're a real estate broker showing a house. While you'd certainly want to call a potential buyer's attention to the view through the front window or to the brand new appliances in the kitchen, you wouldnt walk backwards 1.5 feet in front of him into every room in the house and keep insisting he talk to you.
You might trail along at a respectful distance and suggest he take a look at how big the closets are or tell him to pop his head into the attic, which would make a perfect boy's room.
But really, you'd stay out of the way and let the house -- cast in the positive light you'd throw -- sell itself.
Now do that when you write. Allow your reader to appreciate a place as you see it. But don't stand in front of him, block his view, and then simply tell him what it is you see.
Example 1 -- Too Much "I" and "We" is Distracting
Here, the reader doesn't see the place. He sees the writer and his companion in that place:
When we arrived for our 40-minute ride to the jungle lodge in the five-seater plane, it was raining. We wondered if we would be able to see anything. We climbed in, fastened our seat belts and off we went soaring toward the clouds. In a matter of seconds, we rose above the patchwork of tidy farms that rubs up against a vast rain forest, and we headed out over dense trees. The drops on the windows didn't prevent us from appreciating the view. We saw below rivers winding like snakes through the green. Our pilot described our rainforest journey through individual headsets that we wore.
Example 2 -- An Improved Version: The Writer Gets Out of the Way
This revised version is better. The author still tells the story... but he gets out of the way so the reader can see what he's talking about.
A gentle rain fell as we climbed into the five-seater plane for the 40-minute flight to the lodge's jungle airstrip. We worried the wet would hinder the views, but the craft rose quickly toward the clouds to reveal a patchwork of tidy farms rubbing up against a vast green rain forest. Below, rivers wound like snakes through the green.
Throughout the trip, the pilot pointed out landmarks and offered interesting tidbits about the region.
Four Ways to Get Out of the Way When You Tell Your Story
Practically speaking, here are four things you can do to ensure that you're telling a travel story readers will enjoy, a story more about journey and place than about you:
1) Avoid recounting your every thought and reaction. You still make judgments and offer opinions, but let them stand on their own. Give them their own authority.
Instead of: "The high, four-poster bed piled with a feather-filled comforter and soft pillows covered in rich fabrics -- large and square, small and round -- made me feel like a queen."
Say: "The high, four-poster bed piled with a feather-filled comforter and soft pillows covered in rich fabrics -- large and square, small and round -- was fit for a queen."
2) Go easy on "me" phrases.
Instead of: "The bartender told me it had been the quietest season he'd experienced in the last decade."
Say: "The bartender said it had been the quietest season he'd experienced in the last decade."
3) Try not to use "I," "me," "we," or "us" more than once or twice per paragraph. (This is by no means a rule set in stone. But if you use it as a guideline, you'll force yourself to cut back to such an extent that you'll naturally get out of the way of your story.)
4) Turn to "you" when you're looking for a fix. (In other words, think about what your reader would want.)
Instead of: "We discovered that with another meal plan we could have dined at five other nearby restaurants, to which Round Hill would arrange transportation."
Say: "Another meal plan allows you to dine at five other nearby restaurants, for which Round Hill can arrange transportation."
Read about Jennifer Stevens' amazing course, The Ultimate Travel Writer's Course.
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