Forums Writing Chapter 1 question about dialgoue

question about dialgoue

I’m not sure if this is the right place for this question, but I’m trying to avoid getting tangled up in threads that pertain to later chapters of the course.

I was reading the article about Frank Sinatra from the recommended reading, and a question that often pops up struck me. It may be dumb, but I have to ask it.

There’s a part of the article which refers to Sinatra having a bit of a run-in with a guy in a bar. The author includes a lot of the dialgoue from this confrontation. Presumably, this is an authentic report of what was said.

So my question is this: how can the author remember what was said? Was he really sitting in a smoky bar, sipping bourbon and frantically writing down every word that was said during the argument? Even if you write short-hand (which sadly I don’t), this seems a bit unlikely. Perhaps he had a recorder of some sort with him, though that seems as unlikely. So, how did he do it? (I suspect the answer is going to be Yep-he really sat there writing all this down as it happened).

As a follow-up to this, does anyone have any tips on how to record dialogue effectively? What about quotes from an interview when, for example, you can’t record it for some reason?


View Profile 2009-08-30 18:19:14 PDT

Ooo, good question, I’d like to know the answer as well. . .

View Profile 2009-08-30 22:12:30 PDT

Nice thoughts, Nick. For me, this brings up another question: If you haven’t recorded / can’t remember someone’s exact words, is it okay to paraphrase but still cite them as a quoted source?

View Profile 2009-08-31 18:56:28 PDT

Great questions y’all. In general, putting down ‘what you heard’ as accurately and faithfully as you can is fine in all types of nonfiction, including travel writing.

It’s fine to go back and ‘fix’ certain parts so that they flow better grammatically, and it’s also fine to take out the ‘uhmmms’ and ‘uh-huhs’.

And Hal, it’s also fine to put a paraphrase in quotes, but I always like to be on the safe side and say that I’m paraphrasing. [Example: Basho said, and I’m paraphrasing, “The Sun and Moon are eternal travelers.”]

What is totally unacceptable at any time however is changing wording so that the meaning, or to use the legal term–the “spirit”–of what someone’s saying comes out differently. Depending on the kind of writing you’re doing, this can be tempting sometimes. Sometimes you hear something where you think “if only he’d just said the word ‘corporation’ instead of ‘company.'”

Always resist any temptations like this no matter how subtle the changes might be. The only changes you can make are essentially ‘cosmetic’. They can’t change the meaning.

View Profile 2009-08-31 19:26:42 PDT

Great clarifications, David, thanks!

View Profile 2009-09-01 15:17:18 PDT

I’ve been interviewed and had things turn up in the interview that I certainly didn’t say word for word. The author stayed pretty true to the message, but this was for a real newspaper and I must say that I was surprised.

I think it’s very common to have quotes that are “in the spirit of” what was said be portrayed and read as accurate. Staying as true as you can is great.

You can, in certain cases, follow up with the quoted person(s) and ask them their impressions after the fact if you want some real word-for-word quotes and paraphrase the other parts if you’re concerned about being super accurate.

View Profile 2009-09-01 17:29:37 PDT

That’s really interesting, guys, thanks! I always assumed that if you’re gonna stick it in speech marks, it had better be word for word. I was interviewing someone yesterday, and I was concentrating so hard on recording exactly what he was saying, that I totally broke the flow of conversation in places (yeah I know-I need to invest in a decent recorder)!

View Profile 2009-09-01 17:56:18 PDT

Everyone ends up developing his or her own interviewing style, but in the past couple of years, I’ve avoided phone interviews whenever possible and tried to conduct interviews via e-mail instead. I let the interviewee know that I’d prefer to have a written record of our exchange so that I can represent his/her words most faithfully. While I enjoy phone and in-person interviews a bit more, I find that I have a hard time capturing everything the interviewee is sharing and a much more difficult time rendering that back faithfully in the final article. Of course, you’re losing something by not interviewing folks in person, too– that Talese piece wouldn’t have been possible at all if he’d have just interviewed Sinatra via e-mail. ;)

View Profile 2009-09-01 21:48:54 PDT

That’s a good point, Julie. Not to mention when you let the interviewee do the writing, you don’t have to spend time taking detailed notes and/or transcribing a recording.

View Profile 2009-09-01 23:35:13 PDT

Good advice DM – I prefer travel writing to journalism because it the medium gives more license to be creative with dialogue – some of the best travel writing blends fact and fiction – like Bruce Chatwin’s work. Ideally, a travel writer will be long gone by the time the people he misquoted read the work ;)

View Profile 2009-09-02 00:25:50 PDT

I am with Julie in that I prefer an email interview so that the words are accurately recorded when I use them in a piece, but there is something about being in the presence of someone when you interview. There is more context to the interview if you can be in that person’s space. For example, I interviewed a bellydancer once and being in her living room, filled with jangly coins and scarves and yet somehow pristinely neat and tidy added an entirely different dimension to my story. The bellydancer can say she’s passionate about her art, but in her living room, I got to witness that passion.

View Profile 2009-09-09 19:37:35 PDT