#WriteHereWriteNow: How to make the most of direct speech

We love direct speech.

As writers, nothing brings life to our work more the actual words people say.

Quotes, dialogue, comment — whatever you call it. We need the words of others to add emotion, opinion and drama.

Just try reading a book by the journalist and author Jon Ronson.

The man behind The Psychopath Test and others has made a career out of using direct speech to optimum effect.

But quotes mean handling interviews and therein lies the issue: sometimes interviews go wrong.

Try this clip, for example. Unluckily for the Channel Four News presenter Krishna Guru-Murthy, this car-crash celebrity interview has since gone down in history.

Next step forward Rhys Ifans. The Ruthin-born actor became legendary for all the wrong reasons a few years ago after a magazine interview turned into a study in interview hell.

Handling interviews is not easy and a skill only acquired through practise over time. That, and making mistakes.

We’ll be discussing how we use direct speech and how to get the best out of our interviewees at the next #WriteHereWriteNow meeting at Storyhouse, Chester.

Share your experiences and join the conversation before the next meeting by posting below.

Over to you …

Liked this? Try also Can we learn to write better?

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6 comments

  1. Helen says:

    There is a big difference between interviewing someone who wants to tell their story and someone who doesn’t. I think you can learn to write good speech but getting good content is tricky with a reluctant interviewee, as per your example. I also remember Parkinson’s interview with Meg Ryan; it was so obvious that appearing on a chat show was not where she wanted to be! Sometimes you get the best quotes when you put your pen down or turn off the recorder!

  2. Sarah-Jayne says:

    I’d be concerned about missing vital information if I didn’t have a recording device! At times, I can be busy scribbling down key notes but then miss the next point.
    I’m sure knowing shorthand would be useful in this situation! Or knowing how to summarise an interview effectively, in a way that’s easy to recall afterwards when putting a written piece together.

  3. Claire says:

    I agree 100%with Helen on this. Interviewing someone who actually wants to discuss things is a massive advantage. As a media student I had horrendous experiences interviewing people who either froze as soon as a microphone was placed in front of them, or just didn’t want to be there. I also believe that if you have the time, preparation and research is vital. I’ve recently interviewed a poet who commented that it was nice that I’d actually read their work before speaking to them. The last person who interviewed them hadn’t, and it apparently became obvious during the interview and subsequent write up.

  4. Ali says:

    I’m new to interviewing people and definitely want to learn more about how to do it well. I’m interested in how to get a good interview with a non-celebrity person, who isn’t experienced and PR trained – how to set it up and make them feel comfortable, then how to ask good questions that create interesting quotes. And as Sarah comments – how not to then miss these in my notes!! In terms of these celebrity examples, I’m a reader who prefers to hear an interview about the subject – the film or the book perhaps – rather than their personal life, so I empathise a bit with the celebrity walking out of these pointless questions – but I know there’s a lot of demand for this from the Journalists point of view.

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