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Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Skilled Interviewer

As a writer you need to develop your interviewing skills. If you are a journalist, the need to conduct interviews is obvious. However, the fiction writer also finds interviews useful. If one of your characters is a collection agent, you will find it useful to interview some real, live debt collectors. Similarly, if one of your characters is a young soldier about to ship out to Afghanistan, perhaps you should talk to some soldiers going to and coming home from that war. Put people in your articles and stories, and your work will move, breathe and live.

When I think about conducting an interview, three interviewers come to mind: Mike Wallace, Barbara Walters and Larry King. Mike Wallace is famous for his ambush interview style. He asks the toughest questions designed to show that the interviewee is a crook of one sort or another. Wallace usually makes his point, and he always makes exciting television.

Barbara Walters takes a softer approach, starting with easy questions that build rapport and let us learn something about the interviewee. Late in her interviews, Walters asks tough questions with significant emotional impact. Frequently, her interviewees cry as they disclose things they did not intend to reveal.

Larry King displays the most low-keyed style of the three. King neither asks tough questions nor spends much time preparing for his interviews. Nonetheless, he manages to get people to reveal a great deal about themselves.

All three interviewers deliver the goods, despite their different interviewing approaches. As a writer, you should develop a style that fits both your personality and your writing objectives.

Tomorrow, I’ll write about my favorite interviewer. Guess who?

DB Dewer

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