What’s the why statement in your article?
Wander through Cahuita, Costa Rica… set fishing nets on Trinidad… explore Juneau, Alaska… Why would I? Now that sounds closed-minded, I realize. But that’s not the way I intended it. Let me explain… I’ve begun to prep for this year’s Ultimate Travel Writer’s Workshop, and so I’ve been thumbing through articles written by readers of this newsletter in search of examples I can use and fresh topics I can tackle with attendees this September. Cahuita… Trinidad… Juneau—those are three destinations budding travel writers have invited me to explore in their stories. But not one told me why I should bother going. It’s a common mistake—and not just among new writers. Unfortunately, it’s a fatal one. If you don’t tell your reader what your story is about—very close to the front of your article—that reader won’t bother with the rest of your piece. And if your reader is an editor… that means she won’t buy it. Every successful travel article needs—right up near the front of the article—a sentence or two that lets the reader know what the main idea of the story is. I’ll call this the why statement in your article. What is this story about? What is the point? Why should I read it? How will it help me? What promise does it make? These are the questions I ask. And if I have to ask any one of them past the third paragraph, the piece is pretty much dead on arrival. Fortunately, the fix is easy. It demands, however, that you do a little “prep” work before you begin to write. Follow these two steps:
- Put your reader in mind—Who is your target audience? Ask yourself: Who would find this place I’m writing about interesting? Now write that down. (You may have more than one “kind” of reader. A place could well interest young outdoorsy-types and grandmotherly art enthusiasts. But I suggest you concentrate on one reader at a time.)
- Next, ask yourself: If I had just a sentence or two to tell that reader why he should give this destination his attention, what would I say? Write that down, too.
Now you’ve got the “fix” you need to ensure no reader is left wondering: Why should I bother? Yes, it’s important to “grab” your reader with an enticing lead—maybe a compelling description, an interesting quote, an arresting fact—whatever technique you chose. But that’s not enough. Once you’ve got his attention, it’s critical to tell him why you’ve flagged him down. Here’s a great example from Afar Magazine (April 2014)… The Liberation of Mexico City, by JJ Goode Eating in Mexico City liberates you. The sheer force of food, in its dizzying ubiquity and variety, frees visitors from the tyranny of “the best” that afflicts smaller, more provincial cities—you know, like Copenhagen, Paris, and New York. To locate, say, the top taco, you’d first have to decide which taco you mean—al pastor? barbacoa? cabeza? campechano? canasta? Carnitas?—and then eat about a thousand versions from every last guy with a folding table and a griddle. Even if you were to pinpoint some marginally superior quesadilla, you’d be mad to traverse the vast city to eat it. There’s never not traffic. And there’s surely a quesadilla that’s almost as great nearby. The question, then, isn’t where to eat so much as where to start. For me, that’s in the mercados located in nearly every major neighborhood. These markets offer more than just a memorable lunch. By combining in one place all manner of vendors, they provide a sweeping look at the country’s remarkable culinary culture. The bolding is mine. There’s your answer to “why,” that’s the promise the story makes. As a reader, you can see clearly where this writer is going. And you’re willing—indeed, if you’re the right reader, eager—to follow along. Readers will “go with you” on a journey when you let them know where you’re taking them. But you need that “why.” It’s helpful in other ways, too, of course. When you, as a writer, have a clear idea about who your reader is and the reason that person would enjoy the place you’re writing about—it helps immeasurably as you choose what things to include in your article and what to leave out. For any given destination, you could write a dozen different stories, each for a different reader, each with a different “why” statement. But without the “why,” you’re asking readers to follow you blindly. Few will. Share on Facebook [Editor’s Note: Learn more about opportunities to profit from your travels (and even from your own home) in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel. Sign up today here and we’ll send you a report, Get Paid to Travel as a Travel Writer, completely FREE.]