Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Clueless Caller or Skilled Tour Guide?

by Tamara Passey

            Do you remember the last time you made airplane or hotel reservations? Did you know where you were going? Of course you did, right? Well, I have a certain sister that works for a certain airline as a reservationist. She talks to people all over the country (and world) to help them buy airline tickets. A common conversation she has with callers goes something like this, 
     “Hi. I want to check flights for the week of June 16th.” 
     Silence, until she asks, “And where will you be going? 
     The caller responds, “Oh, oh, right, Bermuda” 
Then they have another round of similar dialogue so she can establish where they will be flying from. In this age of technology, when companies can know so much about us at the click of a mouse, maybe we expect our airline reservationist to know our home state, vacation plans, seat preferences and the name of our parakeet, too. While there is an easy fix for those buying plane tickets, writers cannot afford to make this mistake.
            We have stories we are anxious to tell, and maybe we know them so well, we forget our reader (like my sister the reservationist) doesn’t have a third eye, sixth sense, spy camera or some other mind melding capability to divine details about our story that we don’t include.
            If we are going to transport our reader to another place and time, (which I’ve heard is one of the hallmarks of a best-selling book) we have to clue them in. I’m not suggesting we overload the poor reader with so much detail in the first page that they feel like they are reading a travel brochure, but that we find ways to bring them along until they find themselves feeling like they are right there experiencing it.
            This might be why our critique groups are helpful and letting select readers –ones we haven’t verbally debriefed on all our plot points—look at our writing. That’s how we find out where the holes are in our story, holes that might make a reader stop and say, “Where am I?”  We need this so we can be more like a skilled tour guide, not a clueless caller.
            So I’m curious what experience you’ve had with this? What books have you read that stand out in your mind as books that have succeeded at this, where you felt like you were transported, taken on a journey? 


  1. Pretty much everything by Shannon Hale has had the power to transport my imagination. She really paints a picture with that golden pen of hers.

  2. Of course I agree with the Shannon Hale comment. I really like Dean Hughe's Children of Promise series. They really transport you back to the 1940's.

  3. I immediately thought of Jane Austen. Reading her works completely transports me to England in the late 1800s. The funny thing is, I don't think she was trying to transport her readers anywhere. She was just writing about her current world. But she draws you into that world so skillfully that you never want to come back out! (:

  4. Jennifer & Jessie - you are right about Hale. I will have to check out Hughes.
    Cherene - I'm with you on Austen. Whenever I finish reading her books, I don't want to come back to the present day!



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