22 Dec Last seen … creating scenes
Many travel memoir books borrow techniques from fiction. Paul Theroux was one of the first to make extensive use of dialogue in his 1975 bestseller The Great Railway Bazaar. This helped launch the genre of the modern first-person travel narrative. These days travel writing can crossover into many other genres: geo-political, spiritual or historical. It’s flexibility means it keeps re-inventing itself and remains a popular genre among publishers.
But it’s this very flexibility that can be tricky to master. In my travel memoir workshops I teach how to structure the longer form narrative. One aspect I explore is how to write scenes. Just like travel memoir borrows from fiction, fiction borrows from film. Any movie is made up of a series of scenes.
Why are scenes important?
- They allow you to externalise the action.
- They force you to show, not tell.
- They change the pace.
- They allow the reader to visualise what’s happening, rather than you telling them.
- They break up large chunks of description.
In films, sometimes scenes are put together in a sequence so you have scene—summary—scene. This is the same in writing.
How to write a sequence:
You can make scenes very brief and then bridge them with an equally brief summary of only one or two lines. This advances the narrative and is a way to tell a smaller story within a wider plot.
So in the example below, I mix dialogue with summary or narration. I also include a moment of interior thought when I turn the lens inwards. In only a few lines I cover three separate incidents. By using dialogue I immediately bringing the story into the present moment.
- ‘My purse has been stolen,’ I shouted. As I turned round, I saw a young man fleeing through the crowded palazzo. I started to give chase. An older man with dark glasses pulled me back. ‘If you follow him down the alley, he’ll take more than you’re purse,’ he warned.
- A week later I returned to the palazzo and saw the same older man talking to the thief. They’re in cahoots, I thought.
- That night, at my hotel, an American tourist was sobbing at the reception. ‘They took everything,’ she said.
Next week I will look at how you can change the direction of scenes.