The Art of the Travel Essay
EGL 145, Winter 2007
Jonah Willihnganz
Stanford University

The condition of motion produces a structure of experience with its own logic and order; distinct from the logic and order of place.
                                                                                                     —Eric Leed

Guidelines for Writing the Mini Essay / Scene

The purpose of this initial writing assignment is to have you practice distinguishing and putting into relation two separate components that appear in nearly all essays—(a) a vividly rendered, concrete encounter and (b) a careful, acute exploration of an question or issue it raises for you. There are several reasons why, after we do some prewriting/brainstorming, it is helpful to break down an essay into these two components. One reason is that each requires a different kind of attention (wonder vs. examination) and writing (dramatization vs. analysis)

Write a scene that dramatizes and reflects on a moment when an opinion of yours changed. The scene should be an encounter with something/someone new to you, whether far-away or near-by. The changed opinion can be about a particular place or people but this usually has limited appeal. Aim instead for an insight that is occasioned by the encounter but which is itself more general. As we will see in the essays we read, the insight or changed mind is not about the place/people itself. For example, you might describe and reflect on a moment on a camping trip when you realize that the idea of "nature" you have been carrying around in your head is inaccurate. Or you might describe and reflect on a moment in a Japanese subway station when you realize that your sense of body space has conditioned how you interact in the world.

Please write about 2-3 pages, double-spaced (500-750 words or so). This is not much space, so every sentence counts.

A little help:

(1) Remember that your essay is an occasion to take the reader along on a journey of some discovery that may interest him/her and that what tends to most interest us is the subjective (vs. objective) knowledge that is produces by this journey.

(2) There are many, many ways to describe a scene. Choose a manner that will help you dramatize—make us feel—the experience that you have had. You can refer to the list of ways to describe something in the Course Materials section.

(3) In class we will discuss 15 principles of writing strong dramatization. These principles can help you render your scene powerfully. The list of these is also in the Course Materials section.