Caitlin Kelly

Writer and Editor



Take Good Care of Yourself
It Takes a Village
Someone's Life
Trust Your Gut!
Getting Fired
What It Takes
When the Going
Gets Tough
Intellectual Archeology
The Best Writing
is Rewriting
Use a Dictionary
Carefully Chosen Language
Running a Home-Based Business
Quality Control
Coming Up with Ideas
Selling the Story
Paying Attention
Play Dates
Getting It
  Interviews are like men (or women!) -- can't live without 'em, can't shoot 'em. It's a rare story that doesn't demand of writers at least one interview. If you're producing a 3,500 or 5,000-word opus, perhaps dozens of them. Even after years of doing it, interviewing is always challenging, and without the material you gather only through interviews -- anecdotes, quotes, color, example -- stories remain dull, dry and unreadable.

As you start to plot out your story line (you do do that, don't you?), think through who you need to talk to, why and in what order. Some people will be useful for a great anecdote that really illustrates your story. Others will add authority and credibility. Some will help you confirm, or deny, what others have already told you. Some interview subjects are inarticulate or difficult, or shy or mistrustful, or hurried or just don't give great copy -- since you'll probably have to paraphrase them or use only partial quotes, you'll need to interview even more people for those juicy paragraph-long quotes that can make your story sing.

Phone interviews are toughest -- no one can read body language and humor can be missed or misread. Don't just start taping without telling your interlocutor (illegal in some places). If you're taking notes and they go too fast or you get confused, let them know. Be sure to double-check every spelling and title; get their name, phone, fax, email and when the best time is to call them again if need be. Give everyone you interview the same data on you in case they want to add something later or pass you along to another source.

Contrary to popular belief, interviews are not social conversations. They are highly-controlled interactions, no matter how chatty or relaxed the reporter appears to be. If you're the reporter doing a phone interview, always ask your subject first if this is a good time to talk and if not, when is. If you're being interviewed and feel uncomfortable, say so.

Every interview is a dynamic between two people, usually total strangers who lack trust. Explain the purpose of the interview and how much time you need. Most people are more than happy to help once they feel you're dealing with them in good faith.

Good luck!