Today’s In The Edit is, once again, a little different. For the July issue of ACFW Journal, suspense author Mike Dellosso (also d.b.a. as Michael King) interviewed Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson, author of the new book Platform: Get Noticed In A Noisy World, and the keynote speaker for American Christian Fiction Writer’s upcoming September conference.
After Dellosso interviewed Hyatt, it seemed wise to him to do the article in the Q-and-A format. In other words, to let Hyatt speak for himself rather than through the interpretation of the article’s author.
I liked the idea and greenlighted it. The end result was, like Hyatt, “the real deal.”
See Dellosso’s original article.
So, editing for a Q-and-A is pretty much a no-brainer, right? In many ways, yes. But there are a couple good guidelines to bear in mind if you ever get the opportunity to write (or edit) a Q-and-A article.
- Extra words: These can still be a problem, but must now be balanced against accurately presenting what the subject said.
- Grammar questions: There’s a difference between the way we speak and the way we want to be perceived in print.
- Reader-focused: How to be true to the subject of the interview as well as the reader.
Read my edit with track changes.
Trimming a Q-and-A
Here at Writing On The Fine Line, one of the key things I always point out are the extra words that find their way into our sentences. Tight writing is preferred over loosey-goosey prose every day.
But what about when those words are part of an actual quote—as they are in a Q-and-A article? Let’s look at Hyatt’s answer to the question about how he balanced work and family.
Hyatt: I didn’t always do that well. There were certainly times
when I was tragically out of balance—where work was consuming all of my time and life. and I did what a lot of people do and convinced myself that I was in a temporary situation, that if I could just get through this season or just get this project done that I could then give focus to what I knew was important, which was my family.
People often speak in what, if printed, would be run-on sentences. In a newspaper this problem can be solved by indirect quotations and saving the actual quotes—what’s between the quotation marks—for the particularly pithy or meaningful words. However, in a Q-and-A that’s not practical.
So I elected to do strategic tightening, leaving many words in that I would edit out if this were fiction dialogue, but staying true to both the literal meaning of Hyatt’s words and his intent. None of the words deleted altered Hyatt’s remark or cast a false light on what he was saying.
Woulda, coulda, should not
There were a few places where Dellosso transcribed Hyatt as saying “gonna” and “gotta”. Unless trying to establish that an interview subject is a Southern gentleman, I opt for correcting these little speaking shortcuts we all use.
Why? Mostly because it’s right that way, but also because people are judgmental. I wouldn’t want someone thinking poorly about a interview subject I’m talking to. The AP Stylebook supports this: Do not use substandard spellings such as gonna or wanna in attempts to convey regional dialects or informal pronunciations, except to help a desired touch or to convey an emphasis by the speaker.
Always bear audience in mind. When you do that, you look at the information being shared in a Q-and-A and determine how to structure it so that the audience both benefits from the information and gets a true representation of the person providing the knowledge.
In some cases, though not in this case, that may mean cutting out whole chunks of quoted material that are not relevant. What it meant in this piece was taking some of those spoken run-ons and creating sentences out of them to make it easier for the reader to grab the sense of what Hyatt was sharing. Here’s one example:
So cContent is king but platform is queen. You’re not going to succeed in today’s publishing environment without both. so aAuthors have to stop telling themselves, this story that “I’m not good at selling.” “I’m not a marketer.” “I’m an introvert.” , whatever it is. That’s not going to be helpful to them. , tThey’ll end up playing the role of a victim where they blame everybody else about why their book didn’t sell. You’ve got to take responsibility and own it.
An important point was being made in this graf, and I wanted to emphasize it. First, I got rid of the so’s, which we commonly use when transitioning in conversation. Then I put what author’s need to stop saying to themselves within quotation marks because I don’t want the audience to miss that and the marks will make it more like dialogue—and make that part more noticed.
View the story as it appeared in the July issue of ACFW Journal.
Mike Dellosso, thanks for coming In The Edit with me today! I appreciate it.
Michael Ehret, for Writing on the Fine Line
Loved this! So freeing to see what we can do with editing our interviews. If we were to do this for, say, our own blogs, would we want to get permission for the changes? How about if the interview was a written one rather than oral?
They key is to be extremely judicious. For instance, if I had cut a paragraph out of one of Hyatt’s answers I’d want to indicate that with, at least, an ellipsis, probably like this …
… as if I had cut something from this comment. But if I cut out a whole question and the whole answer to that question, then I wouldn’t feel a need to indicate that (again, assuming that Q&A cut wasn’t pertinent to what was left behind). But I would only do that for space reasons … I’d be cutting out what I felt was the least important information.
In all cases be sure what you’re cutting doesn’t cast what you’re leaving in a different light than the interviewee intended.
Permission is a personal choice, I think. I do not see a difference between written and oral, as far as the decisions to be made editorially.
Thanks ~ makes perfect sense. One more question: would it be necessary/courteous to show my final copy to the interviewee?
Again, personal preference. I would not do that, but that’s my journalism background talking.
Excellent! I have wondered about slang in interviews myself (way back when I did newspaper reporting).
I love Q/A style interviews. I find that the writers I interview are very choosy with how they word their (written) answers. I have done some minor edits, but nothing major!