Occasionally, you may find yourself drawn to the idea of writing about a subject that you aren’t exactly an expert at. For newspaper reporters, the issue is a daily occurrence. Imagine, you walk into work one morning, happy as can be, only to find you’ve been assigned to write about the life of a bee keeper, or an auto mechanic, or the President of the United States.
What’s a poor reporter to do?
You may have an opinion on bee keeping, or honey production, or pollen – and that opinion may be perfectly valid. But the story isn’t supposed to be about you and your opinions, it’s supposed to be about the bee keeper and his world. A good reporter will use one of the most powerful tools at his disposal in such a situation – quotes.
Of course to use pertinent quotes in a story it’s necessary to do a little leg work. You have to actually interview the subject of your story. If that’s not possible, you might find an expert in the field you can interview. The experts comments carry weight that yours alone cannot, giving your story more oomph. They also tend to lend credibility to the premise of your story, should you employ one.
Quotes are a useful, educational and sometimes entertaining tool for any writer. Even fiction writers will find the need to use quotes. Characters need to talk, to interact, to divulge information to each other and the reader. That can be accomplished through narration alone – but it makes for a long, boring read. By using quotes the writer can impart knowledge without making the reader nod off to dreamland.
Like any aspect of writing, the use of quotes, in fiction or non-fiction, takes practice. In non-fiction it’s critical that the quotes you choose are accurate and used in context. In non-fiction, they need to be believable. At least most of the time.
Your first attempts may be clunky, rough and less than compelling. But if you keep at it, you’ll eventually get the hang of it. Much of the magic of good quotes results not so much from your tremendous writing talent, but rather from your interviewing skills. Those too will require some experimentation. But like everything else, you will find that with some effort, your abilities will improve over time. But the art of the interview is another blog entry for another time. For the moment, think about how you might use quotes to improve a story you’ve been considering putting on paper, or struggling with in rewrite after rewrite. Then give it a try. You just might be surprised at how powerful those two little quote marks can be when you start using them to improve your work and fill out your stories.