The first line of the article read, “I could feel the breath of the bull against my back as I ran, terrified, down the crowded Pamplona street.” I decided to read a second line because the writer gave me a setting, imagery, excitement and, perhaps most importantly, let me know the writer was invested in the experience he or she was having. I wanted to know what happened next.
On the other hand, “I did not think much of the Eiffel Tower” or “I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Paris,” are example of opening lines with a different approach, which brings us to the final chapter of the How to Avoid Travel Writing Rejection and how to write better travel articles.
This last installment looks at a couple common opening lines in an opening paragraph. While the idea of what makes a good story is a lengthy discussion, I have chosen to show just first lines because these examples are, in essence, the tip of the iceberg. In my experience, a common, lazy and easy beginning (a beginning that does not offer the reader something exciting almost immediately) of a story becomes an uninspired story throughout. I would suggest that the writer owes the reader a reason to keep reading, which sometimes means digging deeper than that first impulse.
In the first Paris example, “I did not think much of the Eiffel Tower,” the Eiffel Tower is a dud according to the writer. This is a fine topic, although I would argue most people reading travel literature about the Eiffel Tower are looking for good reasons to see the Eiffel Tower – and editors are looking to please their readers. The Eiffel Tower within itself might be a dud to some, but it does not mean the story has to be. My own experience at the Eiffel Tower could have been a dud if it were not for the snazzy chocolate crepe guy arguing with the drunken French sailor. The sailor eventually fell face first into a garbage can after a convulsive dry heave.
In the second example, “I didn’t know what to expect when I landed in Paris,” the writer wants the reader to care not about the place, but care about the writer’s expectations of a place. I see a lot of these openings and have written few of these myself. I can see it now, a long-haul flight, stuck in coach, having spent the time wondering about the pending exotic locale. Will the distance be worth the expense and time to the weary traveler? I have an expectation that the guy at the carnival will indeed guess my weight. Unfortunately, having my expectation met does not make for an inspired story.
In both examples, I passed on the story, and stories like them, because the unimpressed and the waiting to be impressed travelers wrote obvious, easy opening lines that led to ho-hum stories, which makes it easy for an editor to pass.
A few ways to avoid easy, obvious, lazy first lines:
1. Tell a story you are passionate about
2. Start with something unusual
3. Know the publications and their audience (Do Your Homework)
4. Use picture words (something other than the internal contents of your head)
5. Delete the first paragraph. (I have found second paragraphs tend to get to the meat of the story quicker and offer more details and avoids forced or easy leads)
6. Let the trip cook a little more in your brain and give it another go in a few months.
Over the last month, and the first month since Travel. Write. Live.’s official launch, I have had fun, and poked fun, sharing some of the reoccurring problems I have seen from a bus load of travel writing submissions to In The Know Traveler over the last five years, and the problems I have heard other editors complain about. At the same time, I realized that there are always exceptions to the rule. I would love to read a brilliant travel story written dispassionately in “we” voice – with any luck some of you leave a link – but, most importantly, do hope this series has been helpful and you receive no rejection letters from your travel stories.
Here is to better travel and getting those stories down on paper.
The complete series
For Part 1, Why We Sucks
Part 2, Use Your Words
Part 3, Do Your Homework
Part 4, The Dreadful Epic
Part 5, The Easy Opening
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