Friday, 24 October 2008

#47 – Don’t be afraid to be funny

Or why entertainment isn’t a dirty word.

Dull travel writing
As I have stated before, I don’t like most travel writing. Much output in the genre is spectacularly dull, po-faced and plodding. Ironically, it displays most of the qualities that people go on holiday to avoid.

Why people travel
Yes. That’s right – people travel to enjoy themselves. They go away to have a good time, relax and not take things too seriously for a while. Yet very little travel writing seems to reflect this.

Journalism’s soft option
Let’s get one thing straight: as far as journalism goes, travel writing is the soft option. Cry and protest all you like, but the world would happily keep turning if there was never another travel article published. Perhaps it is because the craft is so frivolous and unimportant that so many writers choose to prove how vital and serious they are in their writing.

Entertain the reader
While there is certainly a place for an authoritative voice, there is a bigger call for something that many writers neglect or see as being beneath them – entertainment. That’s right – it’s not a crime to entertain the reader. In fact, doing so should be positively encouraged.

Use humour
And one of the time honoured ways to entertain is to use humour. It’s a quality so frequently absent from travel pieces, and it shouldn’t be. I’ve got no evidence aside from my own experience on this, but many editors are crying out for writers that can do funny.

Don’t try too hard
Of course, I’d better clarify this by saying that no-one’s looking for someone who is trying to be funny (see Tip 37 about exclamation marks). There’s nothing more painful to read than someone trying too hard to make people laugh (well, aside from holocaust memoirs). But if you can inject a bit of fun into proceedings without making people wince, then do it.

Lighten up
Ironic, self-deprecating, arch, wry, waspish, playful, whimsical... there are lots of different types of humour that can work for various publications. Yet you could be mistaken for thinking that many writers mistake them for swear words. Lighten up a bit, write with a smile on your face, pass on the sense of joy, fun and wonder. Chances are that the piece will be a lot better read.

And, whatever you do, don’t take yourself too seriously. Accept that you are writing fluff 90% of the time. But there’s nothing to stop it being good quality, hugely entertaining fluff that will engage your reader, give your editor a different voice to add to the mix and stand out in a crowd of mediocre earnestness.

1 comment:

Mike Gerrard said...

Quite right. Why else does Bill Bryson sell in such spectacular numbers? Readers like to be entertained.