Starting out as a new travel writer is a tough business, but a provocative one. There is an innate lure to see the world and write about it. I have been lucky, and I’m grateful for all I have seen while writing travel articles.
As the Editor of In The Know Traveler, I am asked by writers, friends and strangers on the street the same question all the time, “How do I get your job?” People know about the perks of travel writering: the exotic locales, being wined and dined, the press trips and free travel. Mostly, they just want free trips and an LOA (letter of assignment) from me. I don’t blame them. Travel is fun, but expensive. Being a journalist has opened a lot of doors that traveling on my own would never provide. So I get it, and I am happy to use freelancers.
At this point, I receive new article submissions every day. In fact, I have received two just this morning. The vast majority are rejected almost immediately. One of the two has already been rejected. I never enjoy rejecting a story because, in most cases, I know the writer has tried and worked hard at putting his story together. Still, I turn down a lot of stories each week. Because I frequently do not have the time to explain my decisions (as time is not a friend to most editors), I thought it was time to help out my friend, the travel writer.
The following series (I am thinking five parts) will offer mistakes I commonly see that will get a story killed from consideration immediately. While I can only speak for In The Know Traveler, I have spoken with many other editors who agree with me.
“We” voice Sucks
What I am calling “we” voice is writing in first person plural. As an example, “Larry was talking to us. We were listening. We felt good about what Larry was saying to us.” I am not sure of the allure of writing in “we” voice. It always feels like the writer is not wanting to take credit for what is happening in his or her story, so another character or group is brought in to soften the experience. Perhaps, most travel experience happens with another person witnessing the event, or validating it, somehow making the extra person important to the story — which is… ridiculous. It is a hard point of view to do well and distances the reader from the story. The only thing I can say for sure about “we” voice is that it mostly sucks. However, I read more submitted travel stories written in “we” voice than anything else that eventually get a “pass” from editorial consideration.
Please note: “we” voice should not be confused with using the word “we” or offering a description of a group. I am only talking about using first person plural for a whole story or when a writer uses “we” to describe the feelings of the group.
Why “We” Sucks
Once, when I asked a writer to change her story into first person singular (“I” voice), she said, “But my boyfriend, Larry, was there,” as if I was supposed to care about Larry. As a reader, I only give a writer a few seconds to care about a story on the Internet — just like everyone else, making “we” a deal breaker.
Oddly, I have received a number of stories from this writer, all in “we” voice including Larry as an unnecessary interloper. For the record, I think she should dump Larry. He never does anything interesting and, what little I do know, sounds like he is a pest.
1. At the heart of a travel story is a personal experience, which gets diluted by extra people in first person plural.
2. First person plural invites more people doing things within the sotry, which all needs to be explained and takes away from the travel narrative.
3. “We” voice is unusual in most writing (so is second person, “you” voice). Using it is a distraction within itself.
4. The voice is limiting because, unless the narrator is a mind reader, the writer cannot comment on feelings had by the additional people in the story. It cannot comment upon what the group saw either.
5. Because ITKT stories are designed with the Internet in mind, 500-800 words, it is important to get to the point. “We” slows everything down.
When is “We” Accepted by ITKT
As a general rule, I almost never run a story that is predominantly written in “we” voice. However, there is always an exception.
1. If the story is brilliant and about a unique destination.
2. If the story is more about the other person than the narrator and the narrator has an authority to make comment. I recently published a story about a mom taking her child out to do things that specifically appealed to the child. I trusted the mom to know what her child liked or did not.
3. If a story has sections that could easily be converted into I voice.
4. If the writer is willing to rewrite.