Up Close: How To Interview

Complete Syllabus

Instructor: Rhonda Miller

This five-week online class will inspire you to take a fresh look at your writing and practice one of the most powerful elements of creative nonfiction – the in-person interview. Today, writers can access rivers of information on the Internet, but the ease of finding details can create a false sense that one can simply write without ever having to meet anyone for a conversation. Interviews can add layered depth to your writing. We’ll review examples of types of interviews and how they can enliven your essays, memoirs, books, op ed pieces, theater reviews, or book reviews.

How it works: Writers in this course will examine and discuss what makes a compelling interview. This is a hands-on course. There will be two assignments for in-person interviews, one to prime the pump and one that will force each participant to stretch their skills in interviewing, writing, analysis, editing, and rewriting. In addition to the two interviews, this course will require posting commentary and being engaged with other writers through an online class discussion board. There will be one optional video chat during the second week of the course. Reading and writing assignments will be given weekly and there is no need to be online at any particular time.

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WEEK 1: Classic and Nontraditional Interviews
In this first week we’ll review, evaluate, and rethink some of the best interviews done for print and broadcast. We’ll discuss how each person in the group has used, or not used, interviews in their work. The first interview will be assigned and each writer will develop a plan to complete that in-person interview during the second week of the course.

WEEK 2: Basics of Interviewing
Prior to heading out to do your first interview, we’ll review the nuts and bolts. What will be the focus of your interview? How much time should you schedule? Should you take notes or use a recorder? How will you handle a person who doesn’t offer interesting information? What if the topic takes an unexpected turn? The interview, a review of the information you’ve gathered, and how you’ll use it will be completed by the end of this week.

WEEK 3: Working the Interviews
As your momentum increases with encouragement from others in the group, you’ll work on parallel tracks this week. You’ll define the topic for your longer interview, on an unfamiliar subject, and with a person you don’t know. You’ll schedule that longer interview to be done in-person within the coming week. Meanwhile, you’ll write and edit your first shorter interview. At this midpoint in the course, your comments for others in the group are critical as each writer reviews personal goals, completes detailed editing of the first interview, and arrives at a polished piece (maximum 500 words).

WEEK 4: On the Road and Into the Unknown
This is the week you’ll challenge your writing habits and scope. You’ll go in-person to interview an expert in a subject you’re not familiar with, or to capture someone’s personal story that’s different from your own experience. Then you’ll transcribe some or all of your interview, plan the structure of your piece, and write, revise, write, revise. Will you write a profile or use the information from the interview in an essay? Feedback from other writers in the group will help focus and refine your piece (maximum 1,000 words).

WEEK 5: Reality Check on Demand for Your Interview
As you refine the piece written from your interview, each writer will determine three possible outlets where your creative nonfiction piece might be published. From those three possibilities, you’ll choose one audience of readers and write an alternative piece slightly different from the original. You may add statistics, opinion, or perspective that would be required for your piece to attract the attention of the readers in that particular audience. This is the time for a reality check. You’ve done the legwork, the writing, the revising and now is the time to consider how to share your work in a way that’s interesting or useful to others and meets your own goals for your writing.

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Questions? Check out our FAQ page or contact our Director of Education, Sharla Yates at yates[at]creativenonfiction.org.