Think you know how to write well? Of course you do 🙂
That said, here is a series we love: The 60-Second Travel Writer with Catherine Hamm, editor of the L.A. Times, with interviews conducted by Elizabeth Harryman.
#2: Show, don’t tell
#9: Using quotations
#10: Tight writing
#13: Space Fillers — how you spend your writing capital is up to you
#14: Redundancies — make every word count.
TITLES (aka headlines) & SUBTITLES (aka deks)
This is a spot-on treatise about the importance of titles and subtitles by friend of Bindu Amanda Castleman from her Travel Writing Master Class.
Always garnish your [post] with a headline. After all, the commissioning editor is your first reader and should be wooed in the same way. A catchy title can even inspire a sale.
Your idea may not always see the light of day. Perhaps it’s been done before… or it might not fit house style. But suggestions are always welcome. In fact, some editors require heads and subheads—known as “deks”—because devising them requires writers to nutshell their story and its appeal to readers: an important thought process.
For me, this inspiration comes quite late in the writing process usually. Then I skim back through the text, strengthening the connections, if necessary.
Some of the best headlines spring fully-formed from the ether. But certain formulas exist for less inspired moments. As the travel writing diva Louise Purwin Zobel points out: “Everybody likes a title that talks about saving money or time; a title that promises improvement in health, creativity, or prestige; a title that hints of the newest, the latest, the most up to date; a title that tells you the article will tell you how to do something. You either spelled out or implied is a very important word. The title should be intriguing, startling, or thought-provoking and usually no longer than six words.”
Journalists love a pun. In fact, the tawdry British tabloid, The Sun once paid massive six-figure salaries for its jokesmiths, who just wrote captions for the Page Three Girls (topless models: a practice scrapped by the print version in 2015 and the web in 2017).
Travel writers are certainly not immune from the wordplay: witness: Easy Pisa; Holm Comforts and Rising Stock (both for Stockholm) and Brat Pack (Bratislava).
A dek often puts the humor in perspective. For example:
“Back to Bach
Leipzig: David Ward marks the 250th anniversary of the composer’s death by visiting the city in which he is buried.”
Wight Knuckle Rides
Isle of Wight: You don’t have to go to exotic locations to indulge your extreme sports fantasies. Andrew Gilchrist enjoys an action-packed weekend closer to home.
Rhine and Dine
Cologne: The cathedral city is a past master at pulling in the tourists but now it’s also vying for the media set.
One Heel of a Place
If Puglia were anywhere else in the world, it would have become a hot tourist destination years ago. Its misfortune is to be at the heel of Italy, one of the most beautiful countries on the planet.
Is this the rail price? Is this just fantasy? Caught in the land buys, no escape from bureaucracy!
Twisting a familiar phrase can work well too: “With Pomp and Ceremony” (Mount Vesuvius); “Don’t Rain on My Princess Parade” (Disneyland); “In Search of Real Southern Comfort” (Graceland) and “Postcards from the Edge of Divorce” (where to patch it up or fight in private).
Alliteration, again, is always attention-grabbing. But whatever clever device you employ, make sure the point the message of the story isn’t obscured.
DO’S & DON’TS
Search for action, rather than copulas (verbs that link a subject to a complement. The most common are “to be” and “to become,” but they also include appear, feel, get, go, lie, remain, etc.)
Avoid word repetition: The worse headline I’ve ever personally witnessed: Town Plan Planning Gets Go Ahead. <Yawn!>
Be descriptive. A header hooks the reader. Don’t “bait and switch” with a misleading statement in huge type.
Don’t go clickbaity or SEO-keyword-intensive, unless you’re writing for a site that stresses that style. Many online magazines—like The Mic, Atlas Obscura and BBC Travel—are moving away from this stilted convention and finding much bigger success with vivid, character-driven narratives. Write to engage your audience, not a searchbot.
Omit unnecessary words like prepositions (is, are) or articles (a, an, the).
Strive for words that are short, common, colorful, powerful, specific.
Rhythm Makes Your Headlines Sing (Doo Dah, Doo Dah) Rhymes and Reason