Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Writing Workshop Lesson 12: Stacking the Quotes

Howdy, writerkins! Sorry class is late this week. We're winding up our lessons on how to get and write interview/profiles.

Long ago, all on my own (since I didn't go to journalism school), I figured out the "recipe" for writing the interview/profile feature story. By taking scissors to stories in People magazine, Vanity Fair and other pubs, then cutting the stories apart paragraph by paragraph and outlining the order that they were in, I discovered that most celebrity interview/profiles (as opposed to the Q&A format) followed pretty much the same template.

Here it is:
1. Opening scene. Describes where the interview is taking place (location, time, day, season of the year... as in "Close to 4 p.m. on a warm autumn day, Jennifer Aniston sweeps into the tiny cafe just off Sunset Boulevard...). Written in the present, active tense, this opening paragraph pulls the reader right into the story with a "you are there" immediacy.

2. Introduce the subject. Here, the writer describes the person being profiled. Who they are, what they do, what they're wearing at the interview (don't forget accessories!) and whether they're early or late for the appointment (almost always mentioned, don't know why).

3. Let the subject start talking. The first big hunk of quote-age by the interviewee is usually something colorful, slightly revealing, maybe a little cheeky. A nice anecdote is good, if your person is capable of relating a good anecdote (watching Ms. Aniston on umpteen talk shows this week, she obviously isn't).

4. The news peg. This is the "What are we here for?" paragraph that provides the "plug" for whatever movie, book, CD or sex tape the celebrity is pushing at the moment (and thus is sitting for interviews).

5. The bio. Somewhere toward the middle of the story, the writer gets in the wayback machine and rehashes the life and career of the celeb. More quotes are interjected. Quotes from other published profiles can show up here (fully attributed, of course). Ex-wives' names are mentioned. Stints in rehab are chronicled. The rehash should move in chronological order up to the present and right back to...

6. More about the current movie/book/CD/sex tape. They get another plug right about here. Some quasi-fascinating discussion of character, co-stars, director, etc. You know, a mention of "Oscar buzz" or "stretching with this character." Blah, blah.

7. A look toward the future. This is where the subject talks about what he or she is doing next or wants to do next. Don't spend a lot of time here. Just a sentence or two.

8. Back to the scene of the crime. Wind up the story with another "setting the scene" description. "As the sun sinks slowly into the west..." or "Draining the last droplets of dry martini from the finger-smudged glass..."--man, writers just love stuff like this. This paragraph sort of escorts the subject and the reader out of the restaurant (or wherever) together.

9. Walkaway quote. Usually these stories give the subject the last word. Keep in mind throughout the writing of these pieces that it's up to the writer how to "stack the quotes." You don't necessarily (and rarely will) place quotes in the order in which they were said. It's kosher to "juggle quotes" within a piece to make the story flow. Just be sure you stay honest and keep the quotes accurate. You'll frequently hear the "walkaway" while your subject is talking. Make a note to yourself right then that it would make a good "snapper."

10. The end.

Here are links to three interview/profiles from the Guardian newspaper. Although their writers tend to use "I" a little too often (so much nicer when the writer in a story remains "invisible"), they do follow the template fairly closely. Profile of Jake Gyllenhaal. Of Kevin Spacey. And Donald Sutherland.

Questions? Leave them in comments here. Or give us links to pieces you find in your reading that either follow the template or bust it in some interesting way.

You don't have to write by the numbers, you know. This is just a surefire way to get started when you have one of these stories staring at you on deadline. Like any recipe, it's a basic list of ingredients that welcomes creative improvisation.

OK, kids! I'm off to a conference in Miami and won't be blogging again until after November 15. But keep in touch and I'll answer all email when I return. Write on!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Taken from an Australian talk show where the subject was a former leader of the opposition party after he released a "tell all" book:

10:36 PM  
Blogger theprofessor said...

Very interesting, that Aussie interview. Love the reference to "Comb-over" and "Junket Guts."
Thanks for the linkage!

10:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

prof!!! i'm missing those amazing stories-stright-from-uni !!! i know u r very dedicated 2 this workshop thing, but PLEASE go back to more of your own stories! they were wonderful...

11:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:58 AM  
Blogger Superdestroyer said...

This one came to mind from your discription. Some interviewers seem to also get away with pointing out that the "artist" actually has very little to say.


9:04 AM  
Anonymous beekay said...

Great story. One of my all-time favorites. Hope the long link works here:


1:02 PM  
Blogger Gardner said...

Good 'un. Big question: after one has used the recipe successfully several times, how can one keep cynicism or smug NewYorkeritis from creeping into the prose?

7:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rezeptfrei accutane
strattera Ohne Rezept
viagra achat
propecia auf Rezept
cialis achat
proscar Bestellen Rezeptfrei
levitra Online Rezeptfrei
diflucan Rezeptfrei Bestellen
Buy flagyl
Prix lipitor Pharmacie
levitra Kaufen Apotheke
cialis Ohne Rezept Bestellen
lasix Online Rezeptfrei
Ohne Rezept clomid Apotheke
Ohne Rezept strattera Apotheke
propecia Rezeptfrei Bestellen

8:36 AM  
Anonymous price per head service said...

Nice and fantastic post... thank you very much to do this and thanks for sharing this with us.

2:19 PM  
Anonymous sports handicapping software said...

is a very good lesson thank you very much

9:39 AM  
Blogger xjd7410@gmail.com said...

christian louboutin shoes
gucci outlet
ray ban outlet
michael kors handbags
oakley sunglasses
nike air max
nike air max
michael kors outlet online sale
nike outlet
nike huarache shoes
christian louboutin outlet
basketball shoes
ghd hair straighteners
michael kors outlet online sale
nike blazers
louis vuitton handbags
coach outlet store online
adidas shoes
oakley sunglasses
jordan 8s
louis vuitton
rolex submariner
louis vuitton
mont blanc pens
christian louboutin shoes
michael kors handbags
christian louboutin sale
christian louboutin outlet
louboutin pas cher
ray ban sunglasses
kobe bryant shoes
adidas ultra boost
timberland outlet
polo ralph lauren outlet
nike outlet store
nfl jerseys wholesale
adidas uk
hollister clothing store
nike air huarache

8:56 PM  
Blogger Coco Love said...

Winter has returned. I do not like because I can not stand the cold. But wearing loud clothes also quite interesting. I look like a cute bear

1:44 AM  
Blogger Love Kpop said...

I'm puzzled with lots of exercises. I was afraid I could not do the right time despite my hard work. I need a support person.

3:54 AM  
Anonymous Obat Untuk Mengatasi Konstipasi said...

Informasi yang sangat menarik untuk dibaca

Suplemen Penambah Nafsu Makan Anak
Pengobatan Untuk Sembuhkan Penyakit Gout
Cara Mengobati Penyakit Gagal Hati
Pengobatan Atasi Blefaritis
Cara Mengobati Infeksi Usus
Pengobatan Atasi Tinnitus (Telinga Berdenging)

11:52 PM  
Blogger Pansys Silvaz said...

fila shoes
ecco shoes
michael kors outlet
light up shoes
michael kors handbags
michael kors
michael kors outlet
uggs outlet
michael kors uk
pandora charms

2:40 AM  
Blogger Yaro Gabriel said...

bcbg dresses
oakley sunglasses
pandora charms
ferragamo outlet
balmain jeans
ugg outlets
nike store uk
ralph lauren polo shirts
ralph lauren polo shirts
oakley sunglasses

2:36 AM  
Blogger jeje said...

nike blazer pas cher
cheap jordans
golden goose sneakers
kate spade outlet
ugg boots clearance
adidas superstars
mlb shop
coach outlet online
canada goose jackets
polo ralph lauren

8:12 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home