Non-Fiction writer, journalist and Arvon tutor Lois Pryce shares some useful tips on non-fiction and travel writing.
Find and Use Your Voice
It’s easy to be influenced by your favourite writers and natural to want to emulate what you enjoy reading but it is important that you write as your true self. This is what will engage the reader. Travel/life writing is a very personal, human affair – it’s not a report of dry facts and statistics so don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through. You are taking the readers on a journey – so make sure you are an engaging companion.
What’s the Story?
It’s not enough to just go somewhere and relate what you did there. Think about the narrative of your journey. What was the goal of your trip? Did you achieve it? What problems and conflicts got in your way? How did you overcome them? These are the ups and down of the story – this is what keeps the reader turning the page, wondering what will happen next. They should be rooting for you. Read your favourite books and think about how the narrative is structured – what makes the story compelling? There are lots of useful reference books about story structure – read them and start analysing books and films to see how storytelling works. It’s a fun exercise that you can apply to all art forms – film, TV, theatre, books, even magazine/newspaper articles.
Leave it Out!
Some aspects of your journey might have been great fun or fascinating for you but may not make for such great reading – it’s the ‘you had to be there’ phenomenon. Try to look at your theme with an objective eye and only include elements that are relevant to the story as a whole. The same goes for technical details – facts and figures can be part of the bigger story but they are dull when related in isolation.
Senses Working Overtime
Writing descriptions of scenery and places without straying into clichés can be tricky. Use all five senses when describing your experiences – not just what it looked like. Smells are particularly evocative as are textures and sounds. Every human being understands these sensations.
Let It All Hang Out
Be vulnerable in your writing. Lay yourself bare on the page. Don’t try to project an image that you imagine the reader wants to see. Tell the truth. Yes, include the tales of your triumphs and bravery but also write about the times you were scared, or lonely or miserable. Your readers will connect with you and be rooting for you if you come across as human, rather than some superhero.
Lois Pryce is an author and journalist. She has written two travel memoirs about her solo motorcycle journeys in the Americas and Africa. Her most recent solo motorcycle ride through Iran will be published by Nicholas Brealey/Hachette in January 2017 and will be called Revolutionary Ride.
Lois Pryce will be teaching the ‘Non-Fiction Work in Progress: Weaving Real Life Events into an Engaging Story‘ course with Ian Marchant at Lumb Bank from June 6th – June 12th 2016. Course info and bookings.