Fifth Feature Writing Lecture: Details, Details, Details

Posted September 29th, 2010 in Teaching, Writing by Muhammad84G

This week we covered how you conduct interviews to get all the details that make nonfiction read like fiction in my online feature writing class:

There’s a relatively famous study where subjects are shown a series of pictures of dorm rooms and then shown head shots of the person who lives in each of that room. They’re photos of places the study subjects have never been and they’re portraits of people they have never met, and they’re shown the photos in random order.

And then they’re asked to match the photo of the person with the room in which they live.

You may think it’s random, but the study has shown that people can make the correct matches with an uncanny degree of accuracy: in most cases, in excess of 80 percent. It has something to do with our instinct to assess and read other people, and it’s a crucial lesson about human interaction.

If you were on the discussion boards last week, you know I was stressing that you should always make every effort to conduct interviews in person – at one point I said I’d rather you conduct a 10-minute interview in person than a 60-minute interview on the phone. If you have that study in mind you will start to have an idea of why I think in-person interviews are so important, particularly when it comes to feature writing.

Previous Lectures:

Sept. 20: Reporting Basics — Interviewing

Sept. 13: Third Feature Writing Lecture: Pitching Ideas

Sept. 6: Second Feature Writing Lecture: Generating Ideas

Aug. 30: First Feature Writing Lecture: Course Introduction & Curiosity

7 Responses so far.

  1. Arianna Yates says:

    If it’s all about the details why do you think one might not get as much out of an interview when speaking over the phone rather then in person? Simply because when you can physically watch someone answer, you can evaluate the way they do certain things perhaps? Also, as far as the dorm and people placement questionnaire goes, was it one of those super obvious ones where the preppy girl and the emo boy obviously didn’t belong in each others rooms or was it just every day, ordinary students that could have belonged to any room but because of the way the human mind works it was made so, that they remembered?

  2. I’m trying to get my students to write visually. In fiction they can simply make up details but in nonfiction they have to stick to the facts. They can see and observe a lot more of those crucial character details than they could ever get over the phone. Plus if they get in a situation where they can observe someone, they can create scenes.

    As for the study, it was my understanding that each participant viewed scores of photos of students and rooms,

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