Putting words in a writer’s mind is the point of an interview. The style of taking notes, when talking with someone, is easier these days because of our technology, but etiquette still requires some ground rules. Permission to record, or take notes, may seem so automatic as to not be worth mentioning, but in these days of political malfeasance, surreptitiously recording someone is best left to the professionals. Going over ground rules with the interviewee gives the exchange a better footing, especially if the territory to be covered, or uncovered, is personal and perhaps beneath the surface of normal banter.
Preparing questions in advance is part of the homework of the interviewer, but being prepared for the answer is not. If the direction of the talk is too predictable the whole exercise may be superfluous, however if every new query is a jolt in a whole new direction, the reader may lose interest due to a lack of thread to the developing story. Certainly there is a theme, a point, the writer is interested in provoking, but the real tale teller is the subject, the person responding. Our craftwork is to render the speaker’s point of view accurately, artistically, and as autonomously as possible. This is not to suggest that interviews write them selves, to include every pause, every er, um, and mumble in the pursuit of realism is to fill a page with more space than presence.
The subject may not necessarily require approving of all the proposed questions ahead of time, but, unless the piece is meant to be an expose, sharing a first draft of the process before publishing is a functional courtesy. Helping the interviewee recognize themselves in the written interview can be made easier by resetting the setting, it’s not just for the future reader that the writer describes the room, the mood, the occasion. Context is very much part of the text. A version of the story that includes the senses, the sounds, the light qualities, maybe the fabric of the furniture, or the weather contributes to the mood and the meaning of the article. Telling another’s story, whether it be in an agreeable, or antagonistic, perspective, is a vital part of the art of meeting people, and their interests, on the printed page.
Being interviewed is a combination of cultural awareness and arrival. The public tends to automatically award status to someone whose opinions, or life story, has been gathered for our consideration. When young writers begin to fantasize about being famous best selling authors, the interview scenario is one of the most popular mental images, but why wait to be discovered to tap into the process of question and answer? The lively give and take gives the scribe an excellent foothold to scale the mountains of what to write next and all it requires is an attention to the details that span the space between one of us and one of them.