Michael Strickland's blog on all things travel: news, deals, destinations, dreams and more.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

What makes good travel writing?

Great travel writing tells a compelling story, makes you feel like you're right there with the writer. It paints colors with words, pulls you through the pages and into another world. As author Stanley Stewart said, "Good travel writing needs much the same ingredients as any good story—narrative, drive, characters, dialogue, atmosphere, revelation."

It seems a certain Lonely Planet guidebook author followed such guidance a little too enthusiastically: his guidebook on Colombia was a work of fiction. What writer Thomas Kohnstamm apparently didn't understand is that Stewart's advice about narrative and characters referred to travel literature, not travel guidebook writing. Kohnstamm, apparently disgruntled about how much Lonely Planet was paying him, wrote his guidebook in San Francisco, without ever visiting Colombia. With the help of his Colombian girlfriend, he plagiarized or made up vast portions of the guidebook.

Now he's about to publish a book about what he did. Which got me thinking: a travel writer is a writer who travels... which means Kohnstamm is not, strictly speaking, a travel writer. But if he writes about his fake travel writing, does that in fact make him a de facto travel writer? Truly a twenty-first century conundrum.

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