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Last week I read a concise post from Brian Clark over at Copyblogger about the effectiveness of telling a story – no matter what medium you’re using to communicate.

It could be a powerpoint presentation, testimonial, brochure, or in our case, a travel article.

The part that caught my eye was at the end of his post, where he urges you to skip the beginning and leap right into the middle of your story:

Pick things up with the action already in full swing, preferably at a dramatic or tantalizing moment, and let things unfold from there. When you open strong, people will generally read more supporting detail than otherwise, which allows you room to properly establish your point.

This technique has been around for centuries. Don George in the Lonely Planet Guide to Travel Writing called it “in medias res” which is Latin for “into the middle of things.”

Typically, the characters, setting, and conflict are introduced through a series of flashbacks or through characters slowly revealing past events to each other. You’ve seen it many times before – think Pulp Fiction or the television series Lost.

Kathy Sierra also wrote an excellent post on this topic on her blog Creating Passionate Users:

Start where the action begins! What happens if you remove the first 10 minutes of your presentations? What happens if you remove the first chapter? Or the first page, paragraph, whatever?

Yes, this means dropping the user straight in to the fray without all the necessary context, but if the start is compelling enough, they won’t care, at least not yet. They’ll stick with you long enough to let the context emerge, just in time, as the “story” goes along.

So how do you go about using this technique in your travel writing? On my trip to Thailand last year, I found myself staring at a blank screen in a stifling internet cafe more than once. I wanted to leap right into the action, start with a bang, highlighting the most compelling experiences of my trip so far…but it was hard.

No doubt you’ve been in the same position. A trick I learned to help me overcome writer’s block was first sticking with the traditional way – at the beginning. While your prose won’t be riveting quite yet, I find it helps to get the creative juices flowing in the right direction.

By the time you hit your stride, you’ll be knee deep into your travel blog or article.

Then comes the easy part. Scroll back to the start and cut out the first few paragraphs. Be ruthless.

You can even go back and try it with some of your previous articles. While it may seem abrupt to chop off the context, you’d be surprised at how much more effective your travel writing will grab readers.

A word of caution: too little context can still be a danger.

If your readers are halfway through your travel post or article and they’re still wondering the what, where, when and how of your story, you’re in trouble of losing their interest.

Try to strike that perfect balance between tossing the reader into the middle of the action and allowing them the ability to get their bearings before burrowing too deep.

While mastering “in medias res” isn’t something you’ll achieve overnight, stick with it and you’ll set your travel writing apart from the rest.

Ian MacKenzie is editor of Brave New Traveler, and co-founder of the blogging community TravelBlogger. Aside from writing, he spends his time exploring the fundamental nature of existence and wishing he did more backpacking.

Have you experimented with this technique already? Share in the comments!



About The Author

Ian MacKenzie

Ian MacKenzie is the founder and former editor of Brave New Traveler. He is Head of Video at Matador Network. Ian is also an independent filmmaker, with his first feature (One Week Job) released in 2010. His more recent projects include Sacred Economics and Occupy Love.

  • Wallet Rehab – Ways to save money

    What a great thought. I had read the same article, but somehow missed the part about starting in the middle. Thanks so much for bringing it to my attention. This technique can be brought to so many different types of writing. It’s great!

  • Akira

    Interesting tip and definately worth a try. Could you post a quick example for everybody here, just so the difference is obvious? Thanks!

  • ian mackenzie

    Hi Akira. I humbly point to my own travel journal from Southeast Asia. With each entry, instead of filling my readers in on every detail, (about the flight, about driving into the city, etc) I opted instead to just jump right in.

    Here’s an example from Bankgok:

    “Happy New Year!” Karen and I heard behind us as we strolled down the sidewalk in the early hours of Bangkok. There weren’t many cars on the road, though numerous Tuk Tuks (open sided, three wheeled motortrucks) roared constantly by. We turned to face the voice behind us. “Where you from?” The Thai man appeared about forty, wrinkles creased the corners of his eyes from too much smiling.”

    And for Koh Phangan:

    “The buzz of our motorbike engines settle to a low hum as Karen and I pull up to the fork in the road. Most roads look the same on Koh Phangan, a tiny island off the southern coast of Thailand; crumbling concrete which frequently disappears entirely into puddles of reddish mud.”

    Brendan Moran also uses this technique well in his own blog.

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  • TerryDarc

    Glad I caught your post – my first day on BNT – what luck! You’re right, of course. The counter example is easy to see: you write a post first I did this, then we did that, next some other stuff happened and then something interesting happened and also this happened…yadayada

    You can always loop back when the reader’s hooked to some detail that illuminates the story you’re trying to tell, a location, the color of the sky, a mood setting statement and leave the reader to wonder what happened to that situation laced with tension that s/he was talking about, ferkrisakes! Then lead back to what was interesting and so on. Yep, you’re right, my man. Thanks for pointing it out.

    • Ian MacKenzie

      Thanks for stopping by Terry! Glad you liked the post.

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