What is good travel writing?

Travel Writers & Books — By on June 14, 2006 at 9:09 am

In his ongoing collection of web interviews with travel writers, Rolf Potts this month features Tom Haines, a travel writer with the Boston Globe and the 2005 winner of the Travel Journalist of the Year award.  In the interview, Haines offers some opinions on what constitutes good travel writing:

I believe good travel writing, as opposed to foreign reporting, or essay writing, or memoir, or whatever, comes with recreating the experience of place. That is, try to present a complete picture: factual, imagistic, emotional. Try to capture, in other words, the multiple layers of reality of a place. Economics and politics, religion and history are all critical. But so is the way people walk, or talk, or act in a group, for example. So is how the light changes by late afternoon, or the feel of a hot wind from the west.

Another excerpt:

I think what carries the most weight on the page are intimate scenes and characters. The trick is finding those that drive the narrative and how best to frame them in context, while letting them be absolutely authentic.

When I look back at early notes of a story, or early drafts, it’s amazing what never makes it to print. Whole episodes or encounters or scenes. The good news is there comes a point in the writing when the big block of formless granite that is a journey or experience somewhere takes shape and pieces chip off easily and you can try to polish those that are left.

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