Archive for May, 2010

Stories Without Pictures

Travel junkies are also armchair travel junkies.  I’ve always loved travelogues and adventure stories, even as a child, long before I could take any journeys myself.

Travelogues began as newspaper articles and books without illustrations.  Without the benefit of images, a travel writer had to pay great attention to detail,  making sights, sounds and smells come alive by virtue only of the printed word.  Adventurers of the Victorian age like Mary Kingsley, Mungo Park and Sir Richard Francis Burton became masters of the art of travel exposition. Readers, most of whom could not afford the luxury of travel, voraciously consumed every word.

Victorian writers journaled in pen and ink as they traveled.  No way would all their experiences otherwise have survived in their memories until the end of their voyages many months later.  And without the benefit of illustrations, they really had to pay attention to detail.

In the modern age, travelers largely have gotten out of the journaling habit. I try to record the most important events during my trips, but I find it a chore.  After a fun day of sightseeing, I don’t look forward to writing it all down by hand.  It’s just tedious. I can’t handwrite anywhere near as fast as my mind is racing, and my wrist ultimately puts a quick end to the task.

But I can type 120 wpm, and it’s second nature rather than drudge work. I haven’t yet invested in a netbook to help me capture all that I experience.  I don’t travel often enough to justify the expense and I prefer minimalist traveling, taking the least possible amount of stuff with me.  Lately, because of my upcoming monthlong trip to India, I’m reconsidering the netbook.  Details fade from the memory too rapidly, especially when you’re being wonderfully overwhelmed in new sights, sounds and smells.  It would be nice to be able to capture more of it in detail on a netbook day by day rather than just fragments now and then that have to be pieced together after the trip.

The advent of photography didn’t change travelogues much. Photos greatly increase the price of a printed book, and readers prefer to pay less.   But I always treasured the books that did have illustrations and maps.  Although a good story can be told without pictures, there’s no doubt that images exponentially enhance the printed word. I hope more future ebooks include them, as even in black and white on my Kindle, I’d still love to see them.  For the photographer in me, stories without pictures aren’t quite as satisfying.

Blogging gives writer/photographers the capability to present travel stories loaded with illustrations at no cost to either the writer or reader.  But there’s a cost to the writing.  There’s now more of a dependency on images instead of adjectives to bring the reader into the experience, especially if one doesn’t journal along the way.

Analyzing my two most recent travel blogs, I find that to be true even though I did take notes during the trips. If I were writing either one of them as a book without the photos, I’d take more time with the prose and beef up the descriptions.  Maybe it isn’t as necessary  in a blog as in a book, but I’m going to make it a habit to write future travel blog posts as if there were no illustrations.  It certainly encourages better writing and definitely makes it more interesting for the reader.


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