Rules for Writing Travel Copy
by Michael Kaye
Publication date: September 2005
like the plague
Don't tell people what they should think or how they should
(or will) feel
Death to superfluous adjectives
Rule #1: Avoid clichés like the plague
Cliché: An expression or idea that has become weak,
tiresome, stale, trite and hackneyed, through much repetition.
What makes the use of clichés so irresistible is that
everybody uses them. Most of us have a natural desire to fit
in, so we cannot resist using them as well. One reason why clichés
are as common as dirt is that even though we know we should
not use them, we often do not recognize them.
One way to recognize a cliché is that if you find you
can't resist writing it, it is probably a cliché.
The reason you have to resist no matter how hard it is, is that
clichés are, "weak, tiresome, stale," etc.
Weak, tiresome, stale writing loses readers---and sales.
Here are two examples of clichés and how to avoid them:
Rather than " as common as dirt," in the paragraph
above just write "very common."
Or better yet, if you can really come up with a concept that
is fresh and fits, consider going with it. How about, "Common
as hype in travel brochures."
Very important, it has to fit. "Avoid clichés like…
what?" Think of something that is weak, tiresome and stale.
How about, "Avoid clichés like erectile dysfunction?"
See how that got your attention?
Ok, it also has to be appropriate. So if ED is not acceptable
and you cannot come up with anything else, just remember that,
"Avoid clichés," is always more powerful
than, "Avoid clichés like the plague."
If you absolutely cannot resist writing, "lush,"
before, "forest," "hearty," before,
"breakfast," or "cascading," before
waterfall, keep practicing until you can resist. If the forest
is particularly "lush" or the breakfast particularly
"hearty" and you are sure that is important for
the reader to know that, take the time and the trouble to write
lively fresh descriptions.
Rule # 2: Don't tell people
what they should think or how they should (or will) feel
They won't obey you and you stifle their imagination.
Writing, "amazing," is telling the readers they
will be amazed. Writing, "incredible," is telling
them that whatever you are plugging is so good that they will
not believe it. DO NOT USE THESE OR SIMILAR WORDS.
Write copy that is so good that the reader will spontaneously
think, "Amazing! Incredible!" If you cannot do that
(and it is not easy) writing amazing or incredible before whatever
experience you are trying to sell will not help you.
"You will enjoy a hearty breakfast," breaks too
of my rules and will result in death by ridicule.
Rule # 3: Death to superfluous
This rule is very similar to Rule # 2. I once actually read
in an ad for Italy, "…the beautiful ceiling of the
Did the writer actually think that she was going to convince
doubters that the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel is beautiful?
Consider the sentence below that Mark Twain wrote on New Year's
Day, 1867, after seeing Ometepe Island from a boat on Lake Nicaragua:
"Out of the midst of the beautiful Lake Nicaragua spring
two magnificent pyramids, clad in the softest and richest green,
all flecked with shadow and sunshine, whose summits pierce the
How come Mark Twain can get away with, "beautiful,"
and "magnificent," when my writers cannot? It turns
out there are at least five reasons:
1. He is Mark Twain.
2. He is writing a travel memoir; he is not hawking a vacation.
3. He is writing in 1867. Readers were less jaded. (And deleting
words already written was harder.)
4. Given the quality of writing of the rest of the sentence,
it's hard to begrudge him a couple of superfluous adjectives.
5. Mark Twain is dead. There is no way I can talk him into
deleting "beautiful," and "magnificent."
All this said, if he were alive today, and I pointed out how
effectively, "softest and richest," enhance, "green,"
and how, "beautiful," and "magnificent,"
add nothing to, "Lake Nicaragua," and, "Pyramids,"
and weaken the rest of the sentence, I'm pretty sure he would
have agreed to delete, "beautiful," and "magnificent."
What I wonder about is what he would have said about the borderline
case of, "billowy," before, "clouds."
Michael Kaye is the president of Costa
Rica Expeditions. This essay was written to keep Michael's
pulse rate down when editing copy.