Never underestimate the power of a good opening line. First paragraphs — even just first sentences — will dictate your reader engagement. While the headline hooks your reader’s attention, it’s the introduction that reels them in.
Travel writing relies heavily on storytelling (we spoke about this already in a previous blog post), but it’s important to remember that good stories don’t always begin at the beginning.
A little too linear
Good travel writing means not being afraid to play with narrative structure. Consider this:
“I touched down in the airport and waited patiently for my bag to roll onto the carousel. I waited for 20 minutes and I was beginning to give up hope, when my rucksack finally tumbled out. Relieved, I grabbed it, exited the airport, hopped in the first taxi and headed into town. I checked in to the hotel and went up to my room to offload my bag. Then I went for dinner in this Italian family-owned joint next door, where the food was just incredible…”
There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this excerpt, but it’s doesn’t reach out and grab you by the scruff of the collar. I did this, then I did this, then I did this, then I did this… it’s all a little predictable. The problem is that this introduction simply relays information, rather than attempting to draw the reader in to a narrative.
So how do you start your travel writing with a bang? Here are three techniques that can revitalise your openers.
1. Find the hook
Rather than starting with background, get right into the thick of it and find the hook of your story. Grab the reader’s attention with something they can’t ignore – something dramatic, something titillating, something strange, something terrifying. Don’t worry about the lack of context. You’ll have the rest of your piece to backtrack and explain how you got there.
For example, take this New York Times article. It begins with this humour-tinged opening that pulls you right in:
“It’s a noisy day at the gong factory.”
2. Use a quote.
Using a quote is another popular trick among travel writers and it’s a great way to keep the eyeballs glued to the page or screen. Only it can’t be any old quote — it’s got to be a knockout. Something that surprises readers, entices them, compels them to keep reading.
In this article about skiing in Afghanistan, writer Simon Urwin starts with a particularly attention-grabbing quote:
“’I am like a mountain goat’ 24-year old Ali Shah Farhang tells me, smiling broadly.”
How could you not read on?
3. Use an anecdote
Another good way of jumping directly into the action is to kick things off with a personal anecdote. Share memories of a past experience or an interesting tidbit from your travels. An exceptionally powerful writing tool, the anecdote gives readers a way in to your story. They are relatable, accessible and engaging.
For example, take this article by Laura Begley Bloom for Travel + Leisure.
“My father used to say that you were guaranteed good weather if you spotted a boat as you drove across the Cape Cod Canal — the thin strip of water that separates the 70-mile-long peninsula from mainland Massachusetts. As our Ford Pinto station wagon rattled over the Sagamore Bridge, my brother and I would press our foreheads to the window and hope for a sighting. To this day, I religiously scan the water every time I hit the bridge.”
So next time you’re crafting your opening paragraph, spruce it up by incorporating these travel writing techniques.
Of course, these aren’t the only ways to write a good opener. There are many other writing techniques, such as evocative descriptions, that can work a charm. Do you have any other tips or methods for writing enticing openers? Let us know on Twitter. Or to see some our travel writers’ techniques, here are our latest projects.