Scouting the Competition

I wanted to see what the competition looks like in the Expats Blog writing contest, so I did the hard work and looked through all 42 other entries. Not surprisingly, there are a lot of weak ones. Something about travel writing makes it one of the easiest types of writing to do poorly. I know I’ve been a perpetrator in the past, but I’ve been surprised by the reaction I’ve gotten from readers – seems like I’m on the right track with this piece even if I’m not all the way there yet. If you haven’t, check out my entry “How to Fly First Class For Free” and leave a comment of support! Today is the last day to do so.

The biggest crimes that the entries seems to commit are:

– Listing things. This makes it clear that the author wasn’t able to synthesize a main idea. Feels far too bloggy to me, which is how a lot of the writers work (including this one). Nothing wrong with blogging, but I hope the judges will be looking for more than a blog post in this contest.

– Focusing on the departure. One common theme was the hustle and bustle in a home country before arriving abroad. I found it pretty boring, although maybe that’s because my own initial departure was so long ago. I guess it’s an easy place to start a story (one that I kind of rely on to a certain extent), but it again makes me think the writer didn’t have a focus and was just writing from a natural beginning. (Like starting a short story with the main character waking up.)

Three of the stories managed to reel me in:

“Fourth Grade in a Foreign Country”
Sharon Ashworth shares the trials and tribulations of sending her daughter to elementary school in Germany. This one had me from the solid first sentence: “Thankfully, there was a smile at the end of the first day of school.” I also loved the alliteration in the title.

“Finding our bliss in Bangkok”
This entry by Kathy Drouin-Keith is told largely in detailed scenes and has some really well penned lines, my favorite being the following: “If you want to see a tickled Thai, have a little Western boy wai them.” I can imagine being her son, who ruins her attempts at negotiation with his tears.

“Dude – where’s my bathroom?”
The title anecdote from Sarah Drane’s story is very funny – one of the most surprising I’ve heard from expats, although I did meet a JET who returned to his Aomori apartment after winter break to find his pipes frozen, exploded, and spewing water into his closet. Sarah would definitely be able to sympathize.