Interviews & Oral Histories: #4

AFTER THE INTERVIEW

You’ve done it!  Regardless of whether an interview is the first or the hundredth, I hope you will feel a sense of accomplishment while parting company with whomever you’ve interviewed! By this point, you should have an audio (if not visual) recording of the dialogue, plus notes you’ve composed prior to and during your conversation. You should also have a signed interviewee release that can allow you to draw from the experience indefinitely.

The Significance of Your Relationship with Your Subject
In my last discussion of general and oral history interviews, I noted that it is good to impress your subject positively.  Doing so includes: projecting a pleasing appearance and voice; demonstrating the level of your commitment, as shown by your research and organization of pertinent questions; and, your sensitivity to their physical, mental, and emotional circumstances.

That last issue is one that is often neglected by professional, as well as novice, interviewers.  Too often a sense of righteousness on the part of the interviewer as truth teller can prevent development of a significant rapport with the interviewee.  While it is important to maintain a professional relationship, the lack of a rapport with your subject may lead to a diminished level of trust and desire to reveal themselves fully.

Your Parting Words
As you prepare to depart from an interview, you will want to leave the door between you and your subject open to further communication.  After all, they’ve trusted you with a part of themselves and they want to know that you’ll value what they have shared with you. Even if you have not established a warm relationship, you will want to facilitate future communication and assure them that they will have an opportunity to view a transcript of the interview.

This does not mean you are relinquishing your role as the interviewer, nor does it imply you are going to change revealing the realities of your conversation. However, if errors are found by either of you, there should be a means for adding explanatory notes. This is especially useful in clarifying names, relationships, numbers, dates, and sequences, which may have been transposed or mistakenly described.   

Editorial Procedures
During the transcription and editorial process, you may need to communicate with your interviewee to gain clarity on numerous points. To maintain accurate records, it is good to receive replies to your questions by email or other written documentation

This is especially useful if there are conflicts regarding the meaning of a passage. After all, the interviewee is relaying answers to your questions through the lens of their point of view.  While you  may never agree with their explanation, the transcript and your notes will allow future readers and/or listeners to experience a close approximation of the event and draw their own conclusions.  This is why clear records of all your communication and notes are so important.

The method[s] of annotation you choose for your transcript can take several forms. This is where your creativity comes into play.   Personally, I try to avoid footnotes.  Instead, I employ bracketed statements for minor clarification and section endnotes for issues dealing with proper nouns and other facts that may stimulate a future reader to pursue answers to their own questions.

Although the interviewer should not remove actual dialogue, you can provide clarification of key points by including a glossary of foreign and specialized vocabulary, as well as an index. Some authors dislike the use of indices if they plan to publish via a downloadable vehicle that may render pagination inaccurate and irrelevant. However, readers of a work published on the Internet may be able to utilize a find/search tool to locate terms they wish to revisit and readers of a hardcopy edition will be pleased with the inclusion of an easy reference tool at the back of the work. 

Another means for heightening the usefulness of your final product is separating your transcript into sections. If the interview was conducted during multiple sessions, utilization of chapter breaks is quite logical. Even when the conversation was held on a single occasion, separating sequenced questions and answers provides natural breaks.

Such a layout should facilitate communication between you and your subject[s] as you review the nearly finished project. Once you have completed editing and annotating your transcript, you can proceed to shaping a final format to meet any requirements for publication. [See my previous blog, Interviews & Oral Histories #3, for the closing  discussion of interview publication.]

Future Interviews with The Subject
The potential for scheduling future interviews may depend on issues beyond a mutual desire to do so. For example, if the interview is part of a larger project controlled by someone else, you may be limited in continuing your relationship with your subject.  And, although the current publisher may express an interest in further interviews, shifts within their organization may preclude future publishing through them. Even when you are working on a wholly freelance basis, your ability to publish may depend on your finding a new source willing to take on the project. And if you decide to expand the initial work into a series of articles or even a book, the task may become even more challenging.

As I’ve noted before, planning, executing, and publishing an interview is a unique experience. Even without the permanency of the Cloud, an interview lives far beyond the event itself! The effort you put into researching your subject’s life and work may prove of interest to people far beyond your targeted readership.  The dialectical elements of the conversation, introductory remarks, annotations, and other explanations will serve not only to illuminate your subject, but also your own life’s work.

In my next blog about interviews, I will discuss the renewal and publication of oral history interviews I conducted more than 25 years ago with a dear Hawaiian auntie whose family history is very interesting…The title is, Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox DeLima Farias.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder,  Conversations with Caroline Kuliaikanu`ukapu Wilcox Delima Farias, and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website, ImaginingsWordpower.com.  

Energizing Descriptive Writing

Regardless of whether you’re a professional or amateur writer, the most challenging part of a day of wordsmithing may be facing a blank piece of paper, or an empty page on your monitor’s screen 
Writing Tips
The Art and Science of Writing
It may be surprising to you, but despite our electronic age, there are still writers who begin each project with hardcopy composition.  If this authoring strategy produces effective prose, it’s hard to argue with their writing process.  It’s all a question of the results that come from one’s practice of the art of communication.  In both fiction and non-fiction, when the writer’s inspiration produces a rich palette of words that maximizes their reader’s experience, their methods have been successful!

Regardless of your wordsmithing process, on days when you feel lacking in creativity and even editorial direction, I suggest you begin by capturing the images that first come to your mind as you contemplate the scope and goals of your project.  Work without concern for the structure of language, correct grammar, or the sequence in which the words emerge.  Within a short while, you should find yourself producing an unstoppable stream of verbiage. 

As your pace slows, you can pause to write a brief outline of your work to that point.  Confident that you will not lose direction, glance over your creative output for patterns within the images, dialogue, and activity that you have produced.  You can then begin empowering your words by strengthening the connectivity of fragmented text.

You should then be able to move back and forth between the creative and editorial processes fairly easily.  I stress the first category—creativity—because writers often lose images they have glimpsed by becoming too absorbed in initial self-editing.  Remember, editing can always be accomplished at a future time.  But if you lose your inspired thoughts, they may never be retrieved…or built upon as you initially envisioned.

Experienced authors often have an established writer’s voice on which they can draw.  This is true whether they are writing the fourth book in a series, or constructing a non-fiction piece reflecting their true voice and personality.  Whether you are in this position, or creating a wholly new voice, you may wish to take a few moments and reflect on the tone, sophistication of vocabulary, structure of language that is most appropriate to the current work, and images that will enhance the sensory experience of your audience.  [Pease note that I am referring to your voice as the teller of facts or a story, not the voices of any characters you may be creating.]

With these elements in mind, you can enter the realm of refining the vocabulary and organization of your piece.  As usual, I suggest you begin with the most obvious edits.  Personally, I have a tendency to employ overly complex sentence structure that begs immediate trimming.  Another pattern that many of us face is the need to flip first and last clauses, sentences, and even paragraphs.  Like everything else, practice makes better, if not perfect, form.  By the time you’ve reached the end of a couple of sections, your structure should have tightened with increasing clarity.
Writer’s Guidelines
My Editorial Process
Sometimes in the midst of mundane edits, I have a sense of the truly impactful changes I wish to make.  If working in hardcopy (often late at night in the midst of classic films or predictable episodes of television mystery shows), I’ll make marginal notes regarding a character’s appearance, vocabulary, motivations, or inner thoughts regarding other characters.  [This has proven especially important when working on books subsequent to Prospect for Murder in the continuing Natalie Seachrist Hawaiian mystery series.] And when at the computer, I may utilize small sticky notes to record my ideas.

With obvious adjustments to structure complete, I move within the piece to maximize its overall flow and tone.  I usually begin by modifying nouns and adjectives.  In a previous blog on color theory [see Design Dilemmas for Authors, Part 3:  Color, May 30, 2015], I discussed various words that might be used in place of the word blue to enhance your color palette

Facilitating Communication
Likewise, consider how you might embellish a scene referring to a red sofa.  While inappropriate for a children’s picture book (and most contemporary fiction), the author of a dramatic historical novel might say, “The heroine entered the study nervously and perched on the garnet colored velvet chaise lounge.”  Here I wish the reader to feel wooed by the distinctive color, texture and shape of a piece of furniture. 

In my own writing, I frequently draw on the breadth of my writer’s palette to concisely depict the ambiance of a scene.  For example, “She heard the sharp sound of a gunshot” became “She was startled by the sharp report of a bullet slicing the air.”  Here I turned a matter-of-fact incident report to a description of my character’s response, which allows the reader to join in the heroine’s frightening experience which will enable your reader to feel they are present at the scene…and who knows how that may prove useful if your piece were to be converted to a script for a movie or television show.
Impactful Advertising Messages
Altering Punctuation
Consider the following examples of shifting vocabulary, word sequence, and punctuation that can alter a reader’s interpretation of a passage within commercial as well as fictional text:

Experience the unique luxury of a journey to the Orient aboard the majestic RMS Empress of Britain.  [Advertising copy similar to posters for the ship’s 1932 world cruise]

I journeyed from Hong Kong to Honolulu aboard the RMS Empress of Britain.  [A matter of fact statement appropriate for any type of writing]

Truly…I did enjoy my trip aboard the RMS Empress of Britain.  [A plea to be believed; perhaps for the dénouement of a murder mystery]

I immensely enjoyed my sojourn from Hong Kong to Honolulu aboard the luxurious RMS Empress of Britain.  [An elegant, almost fussy statement, appropriate to a romance novel]

There are many ways to strengthen your writer’s voice for each project you undertake.  Reading other works in the same genre by authors you like and dislike will provide examples to emulate, as well as to reject in your own work.  There are also reference materials that will broaden your ability to describe people and occurrences in an articulate manner appropriate to your genre.  You might begin by perusing your own reference library to ensure you have:  A couple of grammar-cramming style books such as The Chicago Manual of Style and the Associated Press Stylebook, which are standards.  You will also want to have a thesaurus or two, and a few dictionaries, including ones for foreign words or phrases you might use. 

Rich Palette of Images
Beyond these basics, consider how you can use Internet search engines and other materials.  One of the most interesting sources I’ve found is obituaries [see Shopping for Characters, May 12, 2015].  This is a great place to find physical descriptions of people, and to discover comprehensive biographic images and sometimes even the settings through which men and women of past generations walked.

Wishing you the best in your writing endeavors,
Jeanne Burrows-Johnson, wordsmith and design consultant

To learn more about Prospect for Murder and other writing projects, please visit my author’s website at Https://www.JeanneBurrows-Johnson.com.  And for more ideas to strengthen your Wordpower© and branding, please visit my website:  Https://www.ImaginingsWordpower.com