What Makes A Good Story?
By Peter Lourie
What is adventure and adventure writing for you?
Maybe I don’t see the distinction between adventure and journey.
Journeys are everywhere you turn, and what might be an adventure for one person might not be one for another. I think of an old man I saw once trying to navigate the iced-over parking lot in my Vermont town to get from his car to the pharmacy to pick up his medications. Getting across that ice was his polar trek.
I think of a student from Mainland China who took my adventure-writing course and learned how to meditate. He was a digital wizard, but he put the machines aside and faced inward for one of the most difficult journeys of his life.
Getting back from the Arctic or the Amazon, one is faced with mega amounts of journals, videos, audio recordings, still photos and written notes. Being out in the field is an adventure, but sitting at my desk transcribing the journals, selecting anecdotes and details, coming up with a rough draft that might connect with readers is the biggest adventure of all.
If there is no tragedy or some element of risk, is it still a good adventure story?
Risk is relative. There’s adventure all around us. You don’t have to dangle from a cliff. You can adventure almost anywhere, risking your heart, exploring subjects, getting outside yourself, meeting people, journeying away from your computer screen and dragging yourself off the comfy couch.
Good adventure stories often take place in wild, untouched regions, like that strange and mysterious cloud forest where you wrote your first book, like the Arctic regions where Nansen traveled. Have you ever been worried about readers who might want to go to these remote places to see it for themselves and destroy them?
That’s a great question. Observers of animals in the wild know that their presence observing them must play a factor in animal behavior. But how do you factor that vague concept into your data
Writing about a treasure in a remote and hauntingly beautiful place in Ecuador’s Andes or about great explorers in the polar regions above Siberia, I’ve always worried about my books inspiring too many people to go there, ruin the trail to the old treasure hunter’s camp, ruin the solitude and the beauty of a place. But a writer can’t not write. Writers have to tell their stories.
We’re facing a similar dilemma in politics and journalism today. Does a journalist stop investigating a story that might run counter to someone’s political agenda? Even his own? No. Writers write.
What other advice do you have for aspiring adventure writers?
Find a subject worthwhile to you that you can sink your teeth into. Then go, get out, get outdoors, go somewhere, talk to people, start the curiosity machine, ask a billion questions that you want answers to, begin the wonderful and messy process of unearthing, of excavating a buried edifice. And you will unearth wonderful new discoveries inside yourself in the process.
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The Incredible Story of Fridtjof Nansen
A spellbinding biography of Fridtjof Nansen, the pioneer of Polar exploration, with a spotlight on his harrowing three-year journey to the top of the world. Before Shackleton, there was Nansen.