Conducting interviews to bring realism to your fiction

cuban missile crisis

Radio and television connected Americans with the facts of the ongoing crisis, and also increased their anxiety about its dangers.

You’ll find my story “Duck and Cover” in this week’s Binyan. While I lived through the tail-end of the Cold War, I’m not old enough to have survived the Cuban Missile Crisis, the setting for my story. In order to get details about how teens reacted to the situation, I conducted brief email interviews of a number of subjects who were old enough to remember the events. I asked about their feelings, how they coped with them, how they heard about the crisis, how the adults around them (both parents and teachers) reacted, and so on.

How did I use the interviews?

The responses I received were fascinating, and often contradictory, and I used many of the anecdotes my interviewees shared as I depicted how different characters reacted to the crisis. This also increased the drama in the story. For example, the differences in the way two characters felt about the events (based on two different, but common, themes among my respondents) created extra conflict that did not exist in my original conception of the story. Resolving them helped me find a way to close the story that seemed–to me, and I hope, to the readers–realistic. Reading the completed story, I feel those interviews (thank you to anyone who helped me!) really contributed to the realism of the story.

Has anyone out there conducted surveys or interviews as research for a fictional work? Tell us about the experience in the comments below.

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