There are three kinds of people who might show up in your stories:
- people you watch and describe,
- people who are savvy about telling their story
- people who have interesting stories, but are not so savvy.
This last kind makes for really compelling content, but only if you have the skill to bring out their emotion and information. One of the ways to do this is to establish rapport.
It may seem like the person you are writing about has little in common with you. But your job is to figure out where they are coming from, so you both understand them better and get better information from them.
Here is where you can integrate observation and background research with live sources.
Use background research to contextualize the source before you talk to them. Since the 1920s, marketers have been using the idea of personas – sample buyers for whom you answer the questions
- Who is the person? (demographics)
- What makes them tick?
- What do they want to be able to do?
You can use this in your interviewing as well, as you think about your source, what they are like, what information they are likely to have the and the perspective they come from.
Use observation to determine the way your source is acting/feeling/dealing with life at the time of the interview. This may feel a bit Sherlock Holmes, but you can use those observational clues to determine how you need to deal with those you are talking to now. If you are telling the story of a teacher, does the chip bag on her desk tell you that she eats lunch in her classroom? Questions about time demands and doing a good job under pressure could be productive. You also might get a kinder response if you promise to keep the interview short! Is the firefighter wearing a wedding ring? Questions about taking care of the community vs. taking care of a family might yield some good information and quotes.
Up next: Putting this all together in writing the story.