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