Roger Rapoport, the publisher of RDR Books, is a member of the Society of American Travel Writers and one of the judges of the 2009 Family Travel Forum Teen Travel Writing Scholarship. The co-editor of the bestselling “I Should Have Stayed Home” travel humor series, Rapoport was pleased to be a part of the judging.
Below he offers general comments to all young writers on what he feels makes a great travel tale and a prize-winning essay:
In general I think the stories that worked best were focused more on the subjects and less on the author. For this judge, reporting tended to work better than personal observations.
I was more impressed by the quality of writing about people and places than the writer’s own personal reactions and introspection. Stories that had a narrative approach with a beginning, middle and end were good. Humor was always a plus and I was surprised and delighted by the number of stories written with a funny approach to difficult experiences.
Some topics work better than others. In a short essay it is better to not be too general, to get specific and isolate material that works well. This means that writers have to be judgmental and not necessarily try to tell the entire story of their journey.
Picking the most interesting part of the trip is easier than offering a blow by blow. Leaving out less important information is helpful because it undercuts good material. Clearly some of the stories benefited from very careful editing, a must. It is harder to write short than long.
Writers who have background research on their subject material always have an advantage. The winning essays benefited from very tight writing, not a lot of wasted words or descriptions. I was very impressed by the originality of the winners and the honorable mentions. Many writers were careful to avoid cliches and overdone subjects.
I would suggest that all the contributors continue writing these kinds of stories because they are now becoming proficient at an extremely challenging genre. These stories are building blocks for longer works. Essentially, a short piece presents all the problems you discover in a longer work.
It is a great way to learn and become a successful writer.
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