4 mins

How to bring your travel experience to life with your writing

You want to be a travel writer, but how do you go about bringing your story to life with words? Bestselling travel author and our associate web editor Peter Moore shares his advice...

Kerala, India (Shutterstock)

So, you’ve chosen the experience you want to write about. You’ve flicked through the photos from your trip and jotted down a few thoughts about the incident.

Now, the cursor on your computer is blinking on a blank white page, taunting you as you struggle to figure out just where to start.

The good news is that you already have all the skills you need to tell a compelling story. You’ve had them ever since primary school, when your competed with your friends on a Monday morning to tell the best story about what happened on the weekend.

And you’ve been honing them every day of your life ever since. With family over dinner. With friends over a drink. With colleagues around the office microwave. Even in these times of pandemic, you’ve been telling stories, on social media and on catch-ups using Zoom.

Now it’s time to us those finely-tuned skills to tell a story that will make your reader laugh, cry, and maybe even change their lives. Here’s how...

Get in the right frame of mind

I had a beer with Andy McNab once. Andy is a former SAS soldier who turned his hand to writing. His first book was called Bravo Two Zero. You might have heard of it. It sold millions of copies.

Andy told me that whenever he sits down to write he imagines that he is telling a story to his mates down the pub. It stops him from ‘over’ writing, he said, and helps him avoid trying to be too worthy. In his world, that sort of thing quickly kills any interest and gets you a good old ribbing in the process.

Other writers pretend they are writing a letter to get in the right frame of mind. By starting with ‘Dear So-and-so’ at the top, any writerly temptations are dampened, and they get straight to the point. Some even go as far as addressing it to a particular friend or family member, depending on what ‘tone’ they are after.

The point to remember is that first and foremost you are telling a story. Sure, a dazzling piece of prose or a poetic description is sometimes in order. But never at the expense of your tale.

Give your story structure

Even when you are only writing about one incident, your story still needs structure. People like to be taken through a story, step-by-step. There needs to be a beginning. There needs to be a middle. And there needs to be an end. It’s how we’ve been telling stories since the Stone Age. And it’s how we still tell stories to this day.

Again, think about how you share a story with your friends and family. You don’t start, inexplicably, in the middle of your tale. If you were to, you'd begin with something attention-grabbing, and then take them back to the start, and explain clearly how you got there. 

Nor do you introduce random characters without any explanation. You take your listeners by the hand and lead them through it. The last thing you want is to spend time clarifying facts, explaining the timeline or justifying an action. A confused reader or listener will quickly lose interest and your message is lost.

Hook them with a killer opening

Whether it’s the café or the pub or the Wanderlust Writing Challenge, you’re not the only storyteller at the table. You need to convince the listener – or the reader, in this case – that your story is the one they want to hear or read.

You need to get your reader’s attention and fast. Around the microwave at work, it might be as simple as ‘You’ll never believe what happened to me last night!’ You’ve got to find the equivalent of that for your story. Hook your reader and 90% of the battle has been won.

Where’s the jeopardy?

‘Jeopardy’ is one of those phrases that gets thrown around in creative writing courses that sounds more complicated than it is. Basically, it’s the question of: what's at stake here? And it’s that tension that drives a story forward. 

Let’s use the Wanderlust Writing Challenge theme of 'kindness of strangers' as an example. The ‘jeopardy’ could be that you were trapped, hungry, broke or lost. The ‘consequences’ could be hardship, injury or embarrassment. It’s this tension that keeps your reader hooked and keen to find out how the story ends.

Keep it lean to keep ‘em keen

Think again about how your share a story with your friends and family. You don’t drag it out. You don’t over elaborate. You pace it out, with just the right amount of information to keep your listener interested. This is especially important if you are writing for a competition entry or magazine, as there'll always be a word count.

That doesn’t mean your tale has to be dour and colourless. A few embellishments are vital in bringing your story to life. It could be a smell, a sound, a feeling or a tiny bit of dialogue. Just make sure it’s enough to whet your reader’s interest, but not so much that it begins to wane.

A knockout ending

This is what your whole story has been leading to: the punchline, the takeaway, the message your reader will be left with. It can be funny, horrifying or touching, depending on what you want the ‘moral’ of the story to be.

It could be something that was said to you, that touched you, that reverberated with your soul. When I thanked a man for his random kindness in Iran, for example, he said that he hoped someday someone might show the same kindness to his son or daughter.

Regardless of whether it elicits a smile or a shock, a knockout ending is the hallmark of a great story. The kind of story that gets you a muffin at the café or a free pint down the pub...

Discover Peter's travel writing

In addition to writing for wanderlust.co.uk, and hosting his new podcast No Shitting In The Toilet, Peter Moore has authored seven beloved travel books, published by Penguin Random House.

Expect tales of mishaps and misadventures around the world, including Central America, Africa, Italy, Australia and beyond. You can download his ebooks for as little as 99p here.

Buy The Books

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