Saturday, 18 October 2008

#43 – Start with where the action is

Or beginning an article with the key anecdote.

Strictly chronological?
One thing that often perplexes me with travel writing is that many writers seem to insist on presenting everything in a strictly chronological order. On certain occasions this is fine – and others entirely necessary.

Key anecdotes and events
But a lot of the time this leads to dull, rambling intros that lose the reader’s attention by the time they arrive at the juicy bit. Far better, I feel, to start with the key anecdote or unique event.

Adventure sports
This is particularly true for anything involving adventure sports or activities, but can be equally applicable to more sedate affairs. For example, on a shopping trip, it can be when you accidentally clatter into a market stall, or when the two stallholders start yelling at each other.

But to use some examples, I’ll stick to the adrenaline rushes. If doing a skydive, the key moment – and thus the best thing to start with – is the moment you go over the edge and out of the plane. If white water rafting, it’s the bit where you’re about to fall in. On a bike ride, it’s the bit where you nearly get mown down by a tractor.

Throw the reader into the adventure
By starting where the real, unique action is, you instantly throw the reader into the adventure. It sets the pace from the start, and grabs the attention. The back story – the preparations, what happened before the big moment – can come later.
Unless you’re writing for something written in crayon to cater for an audience of the borderline retarded, then the reader will be intelligent enough to understand the juggled chronology.
It will also make for a much better read.

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