Capturing Others’ Stories



Writing is all about story-telling. But most writing instructional material is about writing your own story.

Yes, there is journalism. But usually journalists seek to keep things factual – eschew opinionated observation. At least that is what journalism courses teach. And there is also biography. But usually biography is largely about research – fact-checking and information digging.

Contrast that with memoir writing. There is a ton of stuff about how to do that. There are books, blogs and courses aplenty. Some of these are featured under that heading menu above entitled Writing Memoirs.

But because there is dearth of information on how to capture and write someone else’s story, I decided to create and teach a course on how to do so. This 10 hour course, with a writing practicum exercise, has been taught several times at the University of Pittsburgh through its Osher Lifelong Learning Institute and elsewhere. You can learn more about OLLIs, which can be found at more that 100 colleges and universities around the country, under the heading menu tab Lifelong Learning.

The course I taught, Capturing and Writing the Stories of Others has also been offered as a workshop at several locations. Basically there are three presentations and then a writing practicum. The presentations are:

First, it is a good idea to plan just what you are trying to accomplish – who you want to write with, why you want to do it, and so forth. As the presentation points out, if you don’t know where you want to go, then any road will do, but to get to somewhere specific, you need to do a little planning first. This presentation gives  some idea of how to proceed as well as some ways of thinking about what your are about to do.

Secondly, you will need to interview the person you are writing with. Good interviewing techniques in addition to listening for feeling as well as fact lie at the heart of this task. This next presentation gives some ideas on how to successfully elicit the story you want to write. It deals heavily with listening skills as well as thing to be aware of as the interviews unfold.

Finally, you need to explicitly consider some things in writing up the story. You will need to decide just what sort of work it is that you want to create – the kind, or genre, of story you want to write. How to handle the “truth” as well as other tips on the particular kind of writing which lies somewhere on a spectrum between journalism and biography.

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