Lead with dialogue

Human interactions are some of the most meaningful moments of travel. It’s often on trips when we realize that the world can be crazier than fiction. You don’t need to invent characters because they exist all too close to wherever you are. Everyday people say wild, telling, and illuminating things.

Dialogue is rich, and much like visuals, it can establish within a small space some core realities of your story and engage the reader who is eager to listen.

When thinking about a specific travel experience, can you remember any specific quotes or dialogue from travel friends, hotel clerks, passers-by, guides, or new friends? Especially if they can be accompanied by an interesting anecdote, consider leading your travel piece with a statement from someone. Quickly give it context and tone, and let the story flow from there.

Dialogue and quotes are best recorded in the moment or soon after rather than recalled in retrospect, particularly if you name the person/people speaking. When something note-worthy is said in a moment, imagine a bubble forms around it. If you or others add to it in a meaningful way, savoring the moment of dialogue, the bubble expands beautifully. If you whip out your notebook to record some of these lines, depending on the frailty of the bubble, it could pop, or it could be captured in all its glory forever. When you hear a great quote or conversation, be mindful of the bubble and prioritize being in that moment, rather than leaving it too soon or too abruptly.

No camera, no recording device, no laptop, none of this palm pilot nonsense or a cell phone. Paper and pencil, a book, maybe a bilingual dictionary. Anything beyond that (a) can be stolen, and (b) intimidates people you encounter. The more double-A batteries you carry, the more you distance yourself from the people you’re writing about.
— Tom Miller