Last week, I spent a great deal of time on the road, a not unusual occurence, and in the early morning, I'm always happy to hear Garrison Keillor come through my car radio with the Writers' Almanac.
On March 2 it was Dr. Suess's birthday--but it was also Tom Wolfe's birthday and Keillor shared a bit of Wolfe's essay on journalism, in which he suggested that reporters needed to employ four technical devices more commonly used in fiction to get at the emotional core of any story. As the story continued, I realized that Wolfe's four rules were exactly in line with what makes a great guided tour (something I've been pondering lately for a couple different organizations, including the Thomas Cole National Historic Site in Catskill, NY).
So, what did Wolfe, the author of both fiction and non-fiction classics such as Bonfire of the Vanities, The Right Stuff and The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby think journalists (and by my extension, historic site tour developers) do to engage their audiences? It's pretty simple.
- Construct scenes
- Dialogue, lots of it
- Carefully noting social status details everything from dress and furniture to the infinite status clues of one's speech.
- Point of view in the Henry James' sense of putting the reader inside the mind of someone other than the writer (or tour developer).
Think about the last tour you took and compare it to the last novel you read. A novel requires a significantly greater investment of time but we stick with it, because the rewards, those emotional connections, may be far greater. I'd love to hear from readers about tours that made those strong emotional connections--where have you been?
Photos from Flickr
Top by Lachlan Hardy; bottom by Mo Riza