Putting it all Together
Organizing research and interview notes can seem daunting, plus it’s tempting to cram in as much data as possible into your article. Following a structure helped me condense facts and figures from four books, two essays, an interview and an outing with a falconer down to a 1000-word article.
In the first or second paragraph use a quote containing a surprising or unusual fact and another quote which captures the essence of the person or topic. Avoid opening with a quote because many magazines print the first letter of the first sentence in fancy fonts and colors. The first set of quotations marks become stylized, enlarged or lost.
Put the subject in context. What is so unusual about this person? What led up to this situation? What bearing does this have on readers? In other words, answer the readers’ unspoken question: So what?
Weave historical facts, background information, statistics and emotions and others’ views in with quotations. Develop a rhythm by alternating pro and con views, or present and past, or direct quotations with description.
Wrap-up with a quote summarizing the article’s theme and with another quote that looks to the future. An article by Annette Spahr in Apprise magazine begins, “Captain Kathryn E. Doutt sits at her desk rolling a glass ball.” The article ends, “Perhaps a crystal ball should be consulted.”
Not only does Spahr’s article end with a reference to the future, it also recalls the image of the crystal ball from the first paragraph. This creates a pleasing literary roundness.
As you write, you’ll decide which quotes to use and which to toss out. Use quotes that only the interviewee could have said. Any weight lifter might say, “I eat lots of protein.” Only the champion weight lifter said, “After I added 33% more lean protein to my diet, I won the regional completion.”
Let the subject’s voice show through. This means quoting their specialized vocabulary, idioms and even incomplete sentences. Your narrative will define unfamiliar jargon. Avoid preaching or moralizing (unless that is your job.) Let the subject’s quotations do that.
Vary repetitious he-said-she-saids with partial direct quotes, as in, Mary described herself as an “optimistic fatalist.” Summarize the conversation: Carlos reviewed his plans for reorganizing the department.
Calling interviewees to verify what they said is standard. When possible, verify information with a second source. If Joe said his dad opened the first hotel in Craver County, check county records.
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