This month’s top tip

SEPTEMBER 2019 – from The Travel Writer’s Way

DON’T BE DULL The cardinal rule for all writers

I lay down very few rules but here’s one that’s non-negotiable. Never bore your reader.

The risks are obvious but the temptations are many. You’re fascinated by an anecdote that’s irrelevant to your story. Or you’ve worked up a paragraph so fine that you’ve let it run too long. Or nothing much happened on the third day of the journey, so you’ve padded it with inner thoughts. The solution to such issues is simple but brutal: cut them out.

Skip day three, drop the history lesson, find a quicker way to say what actually needs saying. You’ll see the improvement at once. Above all, stick to your theme.

But what to do if you’re thin on material? If days three and four out of seven were dull? Or the museum had little to show? Two narrative tricks are often used.

One is to telescope the timing. You drop the two dead days and tell the story as a five-day journey. Or you skip across those days by saying, ‘Two days later I got off the train.’ Similarly, you leave out the museum trip, or summarise it quickly and move on: ‘The museum was disappointing so I went to the café next door, where I met an artist with blue hair.’

The other trick is to bring in a travel companion. ‘Emma and I plodded through the museum, disappointed by its stuffy displays, until she said, “Let’s go to the café next door and see if we can meet a real artist.” We skipped down there and ordered eclairs.’ Suddenly the story comes alive, because what we’re watching is the interaction of two people, not the dull visit.

If someone is travelling with you, you can bring them in whenever the main story flags. The trick in writing, as in life, is to choose your companion carefully…

Extract from The Travel Writer’s Way, copyright Jonathan Lorie 2019.