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, Continue reading

Seeing the world through a writer’s eyes

I’ve been thinking a little bit more about my theme of a couple posts ago, “how to be funny.”

jester

A good jester will find humor in any situation, not just those that are obviously funny.

One of the steps to writing funny is seeing funny all around you. You can look at almost any situation and find something funny in it if you relax and try to experience it through calm, judgment-free observation.

A few months ago, someone (it might have been Erika Dreifus) pointed out this opinion piece by Silas House in the N.Y. Times:

We are a people who are forever moving, who do not have enough hours in the day, but while we are trying our best to be parents and partners, employees and caregivers, we must also remain writers.

There is no way to learn how to do this except by simply doing it. We must use every moment we can to think about the piece of writing at hand, to see the world through the point of view of our characters, to learn everything we can that serves the writing. We must notice details around us, while also blocking diversions and keeping our thought processes focused on our current poem, essay or book.

This way of being must be something that we have to turn off instead of actively turn on. It must be the way we live our lives.

Some people take this kind of remote observation a bit far. Silas House argues that the majority of a writer’s mind should be working on literary pursuits at any given time. I’d disagree. I try to turn this part of my brain off on Shabbat, during conversations with loved ones, and on date night, too. The key is not to remove yourself entirely from life around you, but to be able to see it calmly with a portion of your mind at will.

But that doesn’t mean that when on a stroll with my kids and I’m admiring your garden that I’m not noting which flowers are in bloom at this season so I can work them into the setting of my work in progress.

There’s a story Continue reading