Young Travel Writer - Getting Started

Advice to help teenagers prepare their submission for Young Travel Writer.

GETTING STARTED

To enter the competition you do not have to have travelled overseas or interstate. Remember your local area is a travel destination to tourists too.

To get started, become familiar with the tricks of the trade used by travel writers by reading the Travel sections in The West Australian each Thursday and Saturday.

Read and reflect on a variety of styles by different writers. Think about what makes a story interesting to you. Why do you want to keep reading or want to visit the destination?

Telling the story in the first person

Note how the writer uses the first person; for example I, we, my.

This makes the writing more realistic and personalised.

Combining facts and descriptions

The West Australian Travel editor, Stephen Scourfield says: "A good travel piece needs to combine facts and descriptions while maintaining a good pace to the writing."

Combine the use of the first person to describe impressions and descriptions with facts.

What sets good travel writers apart?

It is important to include visual descriptions to sweep the reader up on a journey with you.

Be specific in your descriptions and avoid clichés such as "stunning" and "breathtaking" from your vocabulary.

Check how the use of descriptive language, historical facts and personal responses are used to create a strong visual image in the reader’s mind.

Creating a hook

See how the writers use the first sentences to "hook" the reader.

GUIDELINES TO WRITING

There are no hard and fast rules to travel writing. The most important thing to remember is travel writing should be a balance between personal observations, descriptions and commentary with practical, useful information.

Travel writing is classified as feature writing and, as such, is a combination of fact and opinion compared with news writing, which is based on facts and quotes from verified sources.

The following tips are guidelines only. It is not suggested students combine all tips into one piece of writing.

Remember travel writing should aim to sweep the reader up and carry them off on the journey "to" the destination.

1. Be specific

When writing descriptions, avoid clichés.

Describe what is actually seen, heard, smelt, tasted and felt; for example: "Yesterday morning was cool and still, under a clear and ice-blue sky, here on the edge of the Kyzyl Kum desert in Uzbekistan."

2. Be personal

Travel writing must have a personal voice and point of view.

It should be written in first person; for example: “Under a starry starry night of blue velvet and a nearly full moon, I walk the narrow, cobbled backstreets of Arles, looking for a café.

"I pass the Café D’Art, which hums with young conversation: people lounging at tables in the warm evening; almost empty carafes, cigarettes held between index and forefinger; people in the street, talking; French chanteuse Soko’s voice drifts out: 'I thought I saw your face, at the end of the alley …'

"I, too, can picture a face at the end of some sort of alley, though this is gaunt under red hair, surrounded by swirling turquoise.” 

3. Be funny

Travel writing should have a bright, lively and fun tone and be a balance between fact and humour; for example: "Surely it isn’t unique for a man to be feeling uncomfortable when his sole prevailing thought is: 'I am naked.'"

4. Be surprising

Readers want something only someone who has been to the location knows. Do this by trying unusual activities or getting involved in unusual events; for example: "The leopard’s tail is curled up, white tip bobbing above the long grass, the tell-tale that it’s not hunting, but it causes a commotion. Right across this savannah of Zambia, alarms are sounding." 

5. Be balanced

Travel writing must blend personal observations, descriptions and commentary with practical, useful information. As a guideline, a story is about two thirds colourful description and one third facts; for example: "There is the rhythmical, morning sound of sweeping — thin, blonde brushes wafting dust from the Kyzyl Kum Desert into shafts of early sunlight.

"And with it comes sing-song conversation in Uzbek. A chorus of dawn chatter. The low stream of Uzbek words echo around the remote, medieval walled city of Khiva in the deserts of Central Asia.

"The city itself dates to the 6th Century, earliest inhabitants originating from nearby Iran. Turkic speakers gradually became the majority, and Muslim beliefs replaced Zoroastrianism, largely due to the tax relief offered by the ruling Khan of Khiva in the 7th Century." 

6. Be a quoter

Quotes lift the stories.

Let visitors to locations or participants in activities express their thoughts and how they feel; for example: "And there Phil, who has been operating tours in WA for more than 26 years, tells me of his rather new love for Albany. For many years, he’s been a Kimberley man. Then he visited Albany. 'I fell in love with the place — the history — the culture.'"

7. Be strong

The opening paragraph needs to be a catchy introduction to hook the reader.

This should be followed up with a strong second sentence combining personal impressions and descriptions.

8. Be fresh

As most places will already have been written about, the challenge is to find something new and original to say. Try to cover some out-of-the-ordinary subject to give the story a fresh point of view; for example: "There, on the side of the Great Central Road, is the biggest Sturt’s Desert Pea I have ever seen. It sprawls out green over this big all-weather road’s shoulder, its fringe coloured by blood-red flowers with shiny black eyes."

9. Be clear

The pace of the story is most important. Aim for a smooth momentum, not too rushed or too slow. Think about how to combine facts and impressions/descriptions throughout the story so readers do not have to stop in their tracks; for example: "Here we are, in Turkmenistan, and here I am, standing on the lip of what Turkmen have nicknamed 'The Door to Hell'.

"Turkmenistan is far from proud of this sight, as the Darvaza gas crater rather falls into the 'man-made disaster' category.

"This Darvaza region of Turkmenistan is rich in natural gas. When drilling in 1971, geologists hit a gas-filled cavern and the ground beneath the rig collapsed." 

10. Be accurate

Accuracy is everything, so pay attention to correct spelling, grammar, punctuation and facts.

Edit hard but remember the article needs to have a sense of vitality and enthusiasm for the destination; for example: "The French town of Lyon is 162m above the Mediterranean Sea, explains Avalon Poetry II’s captain, Julien Capon, so getting there on Avalon Waterway’s Provence and Burgundy Cruise, an 11-day itinerary between Monaco and Paris, requires a little assistance."

The West Australian's Young Travel Writer 2018 competition has launched, giving young readers a chance to become a travel writer. Duration: 00m 47s

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