Is your hometown famous for its focaccia? Does your city have the steepest streets in the world?* Where can the best view of the ocean be enjoyed? Or the most interesting historical tidbit be dusted off? This month, celebrate your city, town, region or country in a piece of travel writing, enticing others to come visit!
That’s right, dear writers—we’re not asking you to cross the Sahara Desert by camel, or capture the first ascent of a snow-capped peak. Instead, we want you to write about a place that is utterly familiar to you. Whether you grew up in a Hong Kong high rise, an Icelandic fishing village, the suburbs of New Jersey, or a hill station in India, we’re eager to hear what it is that makes your pocket of the world special. This month, look at the familiar with fresh eyes, offering up that clam chowder to die for on a winter’s eve, or the riverbend that's perfect for picnicking in the dog days of summer.
PICK YOUR TYPE. There are two main genres of travel writing: personal and journalistic. You can write either for this competition, or a hybrid. In a personal essay, you will incorporate your own story into the piece, letting the reader know why a particular place is meaningful or interesting to you. In this type of piece, the reader is looking at a place through the lens of your life experience. In a journalistic essay, the focus is more objectively on the place itself, and you are telling the reader about the history or culture without weaving in details of your own experience.
CONSIDER SCOPE. As you begin writing, you’ll have to decide on the focus and breadth of your piece. In just 600-1,000 words, you won’t be able to cover it all. Will you zoom in on a particular element, like your town’s best swimming holes? Or will you invite the reader on an adventure, as you look for battlefield relics buried during World War II? Or will you take a broader sweep, outlining why your city is the best place to visit in Asia?
ANCHOR IN THE SETTING. Travel writing, in its essence, is about place. Let your reader experience the place in which you live with you, from the first sounds of morning to the smells drifting through your window to the hues of the distant horizon. Rather than a single cursory line in the intro paragraph, think of setting as the skeleton of your piece, something that gives a foundation to the narrative from start to finish.
WORK (AND RE-WORK) THE FIRST PARAGRAPH. Regardless of what (and where!) you’re writing about, your first paragraph should grab the reader’s attention. Try out a few different beginnings and see which works best:
- Start in media res—in the middle of the action
- Start with a surprising fact
- Start with an anecdote
- Start with humor
TELL. You’ve probably heard the advice before to “show not tell”, but almost all good writing needs both. “Showing” is when you slow down and use sensory details, dialogue, and description to bring the reader into a particular scene or place: The bear’s tracks led up the ravine, toward the grassy ridges above timberline. I could see each pad and claw printed in the mud. The paws were as big as my father’s large hands.
“Telling” is conveying information to move the piece along: It was past midnight. We set up our tent and went to sleep. We’d continue tracking the bear at first light.
WRITE WHAT YOU KNOW. This travel essay is not about exotic lands, but about your
home, or place of origin. “Start telling the stories that only you can tell,” said writer Neil Gaiman. What intimate knowledge do you have of this place that even the most storied travel-writer from afar would fail to discover?
BUT DO YOUR RESEARCH! Even though you’re writing about a subject familiar to you, deepen the narrative with interesting information and historical context. Why
is your city considered the birthplace of gelato? Who
was the first person to swim across your city’s channel in mid-winter? What
are the best methods for tracking a bear in Alaska?
USE FRESH AND VIVID LANGUAGE. As with any narrative, your reader will be most captivated by your travel essay if he feels like the language is new and exciting. Steer clear of clichés, and instead describe the environment and texture of your place in a way no one has done before. How can you describe moonlight in a new way? The sound of bike tires on gravel? The smell of rain?
For more ideas, check out the resources:
Who is Eligible?
Young writers ages 13-18
600 – 1,000 words
Best Entry: $100 (winning piece + author interview will be featured on Write the World’s
website and blog)
Runner up: $50
Best Peer Review: $50 (reviewer interview will be featured on Write the World’s
website and blog)
What’s Different about Write the World Competitions?
Prizes: The winning entrant(s) will receive $100, and the best peer-reviewer will receive $50.
Professional Recognition: The winning entry, plus the runner-up and best peer review, will be featured on our blog, with commentary from our guest judge.
Expert Review: Submit your draft by Monday July 9th and get feedback from our team of experts—authors, writing teachers, and educational professionals.
July 2: Competition Opens
July 9: Submit draft for Expert Review (Optional. We will review the first 100 drafts submitted.)
July 13: Reviews returned to Writers
July 17: Final Submissions Due
July 27: Winners Announced
Our Personal Narrative Competition opens Monday, August 6th.
Stay tuned for more details!
* Editor's note - We're looking at you, Dunedinites