Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Interviews Galore

As someone who writes for a living — both as a journalist covering a distinct beat and as a freelancer of various stripes — I often find myself conducting interviews. Sometimes I just get into journalist mode and put any unsuspecting rube who crosses my path or sits on the barstool beside me under an impromptu game of 20 questions.

But lately, since I kinda call a lot of the shots for my full-time gig, I don't get to do many interviews. Perhaps that seems counterintuitive, but I won't bore you with the details. Suffice it to say, I don't have a lot of time to conduct the types of thorough interviews I enjoy doing.

Tomorrow, however, that will not be the case. I'm interviewing a leader of a major nonprofit arts organization (which I won't divulge here; I try not to mix work with pleasure too much, the same way some children don't let the brocolli touch the chicken.) And later I'll be interviewing someone for my college's alumni publication. Beyond that, I hope to conduct another interview with the researcher who works in Antarctica to get some more details about life there for my novel.

Which brings me to my point. Do you as writers of fiction feel you know how to conduct interviews? Do you wish you were a journalist? Or were you like me when I graduated from college aspiring to be a Writer (emphasis and capital letter added for pomposity).

Well, from my perspective it's good to conduct interviews to keep those intellectual muscles in shape. Because readers ask questions. They may just let them linger in their brain, but don't you love it when you're thinking about these characters and then all of a sudden a scene emerges that basically addresses exactly what you were thinking about? A character's love life? Why does he do certain things day in day out? What does she see in that new guy in accounting?

If you don't already, give it a try: conduct interviews. Chat with your kids. If they're teens, grill them about what's going on with their lives and those of their friends. You may not like the answers, but if you can use it in your fiction, perhaps it's useful on multiple levels.


Jemi Fraser said...

Great advice. Although when you grill/interview/question/talk to my teenage son, you're sometimes as likely to get a grunt as a word. It's amazing the range of grunts you can get :)

caroline_hagood said...

I do love conducting interviews. So, Matt, tell me about the process of becoming an elephant.

Matt Sinclair said...

As a former teenage boy (though it's been a while), I understand the challenge that he must be posing to you. But it is a pose, and with enough time and questioning, I'm sure the human vocalizations will return and communication can resume. I expect that with my girls, I won't be able to get them to shutup, though if they're talking about a boy or four, I bet they'll just scream at me to go away.

Matt Sinclair said...

Caroline, I don't know that I could do that question justice in just a blog comment. I'll have to think about how best to answer it. Suffice it to say, I've been an elephant for a loooong time.

Anonymous said...

I love conducting interviews. Though for my day job they are the kind where answers go into court reports or help make monumental life decisions.

It is really amazaing just how quickly people belly up and divulge info. It's equally amazing/amusing to listen through the half-truths to get to the real meat.

Great advice on interviewing. It's a skill that most writers could use in learning the inner workings of their characters.

Matt Sinclair said...

Thanks Cat. I agree with you about how amazing it can be to hear such full disclosures and half truths.