Today we have a guest post from Michael Turtle, one of our speakers for TBEX Europe. Michael has a journalism background, and will be joining with fellow journalist Chris Gray Faust, in a session titled Travel Writing 101: Writing the Creative Service Piece.
Here’s what Michael has to say about why you should incorporate interviews and interviewing techniques into your travel writing.
“Today I went to see the pyramids. I’d always wanted to visit them, ever since I first saw a picture of them as a child. They were much bigger than I expected and it was a really great experience.”
Ok, pretty boring, right? But sadly this is how too many travel stories online sound. As a writer, it’s much easier to say what’s on the top of your mind, rather than consider what a reader wants to hear. Making the extra effort to write engaging content will be better for your blog in the long run, though.
Often it helps to think like a journalist. Not in the sense of where you’re going to get a beer after your story is filed (although that’s not necessarily a bad thing) but about the elements and structure that will best illustrate the point you’re trying to make.
We’re getting a bit ahead of ourselves, though (not a good thing to do as a writer) because one of the most important things to work out first is what your point is. In the journalism game, this is called your angle or your hook and basically it’s a matter of answering the question “what will interest someone enough to read this story?” Once you know that, the hardest part is done. During my years writing stories for television and radio stations, the easiest assignments were always the ones where I knew what I wanted to say.
It’s then a matter of collecting the elements of your story and putting them together in a compelling way. I just want to talk about one of those elements now – interviews. This will be one of the main focuses of the session I’m co-presenting with Chris Gray Faust at TBEX in Girona, Spain, in September.
Look at it this way: the world as we know it is made up of people. It’s their creations, their interactions, their opinions, and their traditions which are such an important part of the fabric of society. And it’s from people that the best stories of humankind have been told. Can you think of a good novel that had no people and was just about a landscape or a building? No… didn’t think so.
So injecting some characters into your stories is a really straightforward way to bring them to life. While you’re travelling you could do quick and easy interviews with people you meet along the way – or you could arrange some more formal ones in advance or once you’re at a location. It doesn’t really matter how you do it, as long as it helps you with your angle.
I’m not going to go into the best techniques for interviews right now (because it would be really embarrassing if you didn’t come to my session because you thought you’d learnt enough) except to say that it’s actually quite easy once you know the basics. The key is tailoring your interviewing style to the situation. In my former job (back when I actually had an income) I would interview a movie star one day, homeless drug addicts the next, and the Prime Minister the next. As you’d expect, each required a slightly different approach… but also had plenty of common elements.
The best thing about interviews is that the quotes you get from people are quite malleable – if you’ve done well with the chat then you can use them in any type of story to achieve a wide range of effects. Not that I want to force you read my own site (heaven knows that travel bloggers NEVER want to do that), I thought it would be helpful if I pointed to a couple of examples.
- If you get a great interview with a really interesting character, often that’s enough for a story in itself. Readers are fascinated with the lives of other people – especially if they come from a foreign culture or have led a unique lifestyle. That’s just what I found when I interviewed the world’s oldest backpacker.
- Often you can leave the best storytelling to the characters in your post by choosing good quotes from their interviews. They usually know the topic better than you so it’s a nice idea to let them explain the information and you can fill in the context and the details needed to link everything together. As you’ll see in this story about the destruction of Paraguay’s forests, it can also add a personal touch to a potentially dry issue.
- Sometimes you’ll do interviews with representatives of organisations or with individuals who are central to your story. But a useful technique to create a sense of place is to get quotes from people on the streets who can speak for a whole community – or give you a range of differing views on one topic. This story about the state of the Greek economic crisis used tourism workers to paint a picture of the effects on the industry.
As I mentioned, there are a few elements you can use to spice up the writing on your blog. Why not just start with one, though. Perhaps try putting some interviews into some future posts and see how your regular readers respond. Remember: it’s all about people, not you.
Author bio: Michael Turtle used to spend his days as a journalist interviewing people and telling their stories on Australian radio and television. Now he’s travelling the globe indefinitely, sharing the things he finds on his blog Time Travel Turtle.
Photo credits: Courtesy of the author