Interviewing for a story: Data or Depth?

Dearest minions, please welcome Linzé Brandon, guest author of the week for my Writing/Editing Monday post. She has some great advice for you writers out there in regards to doing interviews for your research.

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It was only recently when someone asked me during an interview where I get my inspiration for my books from, that I finally realised it: from other people. Sub-consciously, perhaps, I have been people watching for years. Noting the way they act, talk and interact with others. I am mostly a listener, or turned into one over the years, and people often feel comfortable telling you things that will not necessarily come up in normal office or social conversations. Unless you’re the greatest gossip, of course. Are all writers observers? To some extent I believe we are, and it is this behaviour that can help any writer in his or her writing.

Another thing I came to like is doing interviews. And my blog is evidence of that, but doing an interview purely to gain information is something different. Of course, research can be done on the internet or from books or articles, but the human element is missing from that. I got an idea for a story about a metal working artist. I wrote down the basic plot, but had little “feel” for the metal work occupation of my male character, until I remembered that I actually know someone who does. He may not consider himself to be an artist, but he has the skills to work with metal – he makes swords and knives as a hobby, albeit a very serious one. So enters my interview opportunity. Very excited, I cornered him and asked.

Then he let air out of my bubble. This deflation, required a different strategy. He was willing to talk to me, but there were limits as to what we could discuss. This was an important lesson – talking to people to gain information is more than just about the why’s and how’s. Privacy and respect for a point of view, especially if it is different from your own, could make or break the success of the interview. How deep do you dig? Where do you draw the line? These questions have been plaguing me as I contemplated the questions that I wanted to ask. Of course I want to know about the metal, and how its worked and forged, or whatever, but can I ask about why he chose that particular hobby? Or what inspired him to do it in the first place? If you know the person, you can ask, but can you use the information? Will they want to see your interview/article/book before you make it public? In this hacked-up, public-information digital world we live in today, these are very valid concerns that you need to address when approaching someone for an interview.

How about a sensitive subject? Or something very intimate, like sex? Now you might rightly wonder where that came from. To be honest, I have no interest in any one else’s sex life, but I am reading a book about the history of the Kamasutra right now, and I happen to know a practitioner of the “art” if you want to call it that. Asking such a person to be interviewed, will need a lot of preparation, and sensitivity to his or her beliefs that may not be inline with your own. Preparation in understanding includes what it would mean to be a practitioner, and how the underlying belief system could come into play. Coming across as judgmental or prejudiced should be avoided at all cost. Rather stay away if a subject makes you uncomfortable, do impersonal research or get someone else to do the interview on your behalf. Sensitive subjects can encompass a wide variety of things, including abuse, divorce, addiction, etc. Not everyone will be comfortable in talking about their personal experiences and you need to determine that before you jump in.

Prepare your questions ahead of time and send them to your potential interviewee. Stick to those questions, unless the person opens up and allows you more information. This amounts to a lot of trust and a compliment of your skills as an interviewer. But, be careful of crossing that line at all times. Offer to show them the article/interview before publishing it, even if they don’t ask. Respect their wishes for privacy and anonymity if necessary, and keep the end result as objective as you possibly can. It will also add to your credibility.

You know many more interesting people than you think you do, and can often learn much from any one of them. You don’t need to be a professional interviewer or journalist to conduct a successful interview, but if you remember the humanity of your subject, you will go far in obtaining useful information and insight directly from the horse’s mouth.

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Linzé Brandon is the pen name of a South African engineer and project manager who taught herself to read before she went to school. She started writing in a time period of her life when she was self-employed as an export consultant, and had much better time management skills. Focusing on writing what she loves to read, fantasy and paranormal romance, she does dabble in SF, erotica and erotic romance when writing short stories. It is her dream to write novels full time, but until then she divides her time between her writing, marketing her writing, cross-stitch, archery and painting mixed media abstracts. And believe it or not – she starts plotting for NaNoWriMo in July. “By the time November rolls around, I am ready to write and cannot wait to dig into the next installment of my fantasy series.”

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That is some great advice, Linzé. Thank you! I have had experience with the interviewing process for one of my novels, and learned there are certain things in some cultures that cannot be divulged to outsiders.

You can find Linzé around cyberspace at the following links:

Blog (Butterfly on a Broomstick)
Facebook author page
Facebook profile page
Twitter

And here’s her book info too, for Géra’s Gift:
T’ara frowned.
Uneasy, he elected to increase the size of his barrier. She fired a high-powered redfire-strike at him, knocking him over. Calling on the skills of the ancient martial arts he had studied, he rolled over, dived to one side, and flipped on to his feet all in one continuous movement. Since Lord Aidan said there would not be any interruptions, he had to be ready in case she struck at him while he was down. She didn’t.
Electing to use high-powered strikes was a risky choice, but it would guarantee that he reciprocated in equal measure. Knowing how adaptable he could be when faced with an unusual battle strategy, she had to rely on his skills to end this quickly.
He moved silently to his right. She looked distracted, but he knew it might be another tactic, so he watched her carefully. The next moment, he was struck from behind with a shock wave that sent him sliding and rolling on the ground. He grimaced as he tried to control his fall. She used the previous attack to distract him, then hid behind an invisibility barrier so she could strike at him from behind. Before he even came to a standstill, he retaliated with a redfire-strike and two fire-balls. By the time he had his body under control and ready again to defend himself, the arena had gone deathly quiet. He only heard his own breathing.
He spun around and saw T’ara lying on her back, not moving. Lord Aidan reached her a moment before he did. He fell to his knees beside her.
‘Oh no.’

 

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