by Nowick Gray
Okay, maybe that title is a bit strong. You’re enchanted with the exotic city you’ve discovered, or the awesome landscape. You pull out your trusty digital camera or cellphone and click—you’ve captured it. Another click or two, and you’ve shared your experience with friends far and wide through Facebook, Twitter, and a dozen other social media platforms. Technology is marvelous!
Maybe you’ve added a few words as a caption: “Just arrived in this exotic city / awesome landscape.” No more is needed, since as we all know, a picture is worth a thousand words.
But what if you are a writer? Then that quick sharing fix from your travels shortchanges your true talents.
The Pen is Craftier than the Camera
Traveling a lot in winter months, I fall into the tourist trap all the time—strolling down the malecon, snapping photos and moving on. One day it hit me: what about that old-fashioned recipe, description?
A man with a broad brown face sits at the foot of a bronze statue on the sea wall, facing me. Under the wide brim of his straw hat, his eyes are squinted, too small to see. Yet I can tell he’s looking at me, contemplating, like the green-oxidized merman gazing out to sea.
It doesn’t have to be a thousand words. A paragraph or two will do. It is possible—and for a writer, necessary—to paint the picture or scene, with words. In our palette are myriad colors, textures, shapes, lighting. And that’s just the visual sense.
Funny how we get trained by a visual culture to forget to include the other senses: smell, taste, sounds, touch. And what about that more mysterious “sixth sense,” as in the above example?
You can still take stunning photos to share. Take some extra care with a written description to go along with them, and you have the makings of a memorable travel blog. Not to mention, a great place to start in revising that novel or memoir sitting in the shadows on your hard drive.
Great writing is timeless, and it transcends the bounds of our present space. After my stroll yesterday, I relaxed on the beach (unenticed by the choppy waves) with my Kindle, disappearing from Puerto Vallarta into that 4 X 6 screen which conjured scenes from the life of British writer Norman Lewis (Jackdaw Cake). It didn’t matter where he went: the Gulf of Aden, London, North Africa, Cuba. The scenes and characters came vividly alive in every locale—on every page, in every paragraph. Seventy years later, we can be inspired to the same goal.
Start with the place where you are, right now. Paris or Podunk, cabin or cubicle. Exotic or humble, it’s all grist for the writer’s descriptive mill. Replace the camera shot with verbal visuals; then add the other senses. One you start layering in these elements, a hundred words can quickly become a thousand.