I’m currently busy writing critiques of some of the entries to the recent Indy on Sunday/Bradt travel-writing competition. It’s interesting to look at a piece closely because it points up the attention to detail required with use of language and overall structure.
One problem that is coming up time and again is signposting. What do I mean? Placing yourself and therefore the reader in time and space from time to time, to move the tale on.
For example, say a person is telling the tale of a canoe trip down a river. They begin by getting in the canoe. Then they relate some of the detail of the experience of canoeing. Next, it’s back to the action – they tell us they’re part way down the river now, heading for a weir. Perhaps, for tonal colour, they do this by introducing some dialogue from the instructor who is accompanying them on the journey. More detail follows on the difficulty of negotiating the weir. Then they relate the experience of achieving getting through the weir – again, perhaps some dialogue can be the device to deliver this. Following on, we get some colour on what the local landscape looks like and perhaps a little history of the area too. Finally, they establish that they’ve reached the end of their trip and then tell us about what that sense of achievement feels like and how the trip helped them enjoy the landscape or whatever to wrap up the story.
Getting in the canoe, arriving at the weir, moving on through the landscape, reaching the end of the journey. All these points have been “signposted” by the author enabling the reader to move with ease through the story’s structure.
Every story needs a structure and every story needs signposts to take the reader forward. A lack of signposts will leave the reader struggling to understand where you and they are and the story will lose its logic and its credibility. Take a look at the articles in this weekend’s papers and set yourself a task of spotting the signposts.