Wednesday, 12 November 2008

#61 – Avoid overuse of ‘I’ and ‘we’.

Or why there should be no ‘I’ in “travel story”

Amateurish writing
One thing that always grates with me when I read a travel piece is when the writer is constantly referring to themselves all the way through. This is an entirely personal peccadillo, but I always think that copy littered with “I” and “we” seems a little amateurish. It reads a little like one of those pieces you write at primary school after you get back from the summer holidays, recounting what you did over the last couple of months.

Putting the reader in your shoes
The main reason that I don’t like it is that it distances the reader from the experience. When you’re writing about your own experience, it is by default not theirs. One thing I always like to do in a travel piece is to take the reader there, and put him or her in my shoes. The moment I start talking about myself, this isn’t possible.

I’ll give a couple of sentences as an example. Here’s the what-I-did-on-my-holidays version:

“Antonio tells me that there are jaguars behind the trees. We all tread a little gingerly after that, and I tremble as I hear a roar. ‘Don’t worry,’ Antonio tells us. ‘It’s only a howler monkey’.”

Now I think that passage would be better written as follows:

“There are jaguars behind the trees, says Antonio. Cue ginger steps – and impulsive trembling the moment a roar rings out. ‘Don’t worry,’ says Antonio. ‘It’s only a howler monkey’.”

Transported into the situation
You may agree or disagree, but I feel that the reader is transported into the situation more in the second passage. And it’s largely because those two words have been chopped out.

Integral part of the story?
Sometimes, of course, using “I” or “we” is unavoidable. Sometimes, you ARE an integral part of the story – such as if you’re on a personal mission, or are doing a piece about how you are revisiting somewhere that a relationship broke down in many years ago.
On other occasions, you simply have to leap through so many hoops to avoid the use of ‘I’, that it’s simply not worth the horrendously clunky that emerges as a result.
But most of the time, there’s no “I” in “travel story”.

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