How to interview someone about their life story 

The first stage in helping someone to write their story is to start off with a series of informal interviews. These will aim to build trust between the interviewer (ghost writer) and the individual that has a story to tell while also distilling what it is likely to be about and outlining the best way of structuring it. This is achieved by asking good questions with sensitivity and empathy.

Asking the right questions

Ghost writer interview questions need to be carefully constructed to allow the interviewee to gradually release the essence of the story they want to tell. The ghost writer interview needs to be relaxed and informal so the people involved can get to know each other, forming a bond of trust and goodwill. A questioning template can be used but the ghost writer has to be flexible in their approach and adapt according to the interviewee’s answers.

As the interviews progress, avenues of inquiry can be explored to examine their fruitfulness. The ghost writer will be looking to extract a structure for the story, where it should start, its scope and the main characters involved and the setting.  While also investigating and highlighting any research needed and any material for the background that needs to be gathered. The interviews should ultimately derive an outline for the story to be told. It is important to see where the reader will be taken and why.

Emotional sensitivity and empathy

Where a person could be describing a life changing experience that could be part of their story they want to tell, a sensitive approach is important. Confidentiality is vital but a person should not be rushed into telling their story. It should be allowed to unfold naturally when they are ready to convey their feelings in the incidents and events they want to describe.

Showing empathy to the person explaining their story is also important. To show consideration and interest in an individual’s experiences, are vital skills for a ghost writer. It will come across in the final book if a memoir is told with feeling, understanding and attentiveness. This will reflect in greater responsiveness from the reader. And, indeed, if they have experienced similar episodes in their life, they will gain much more from the book. These issues are key in the interviewing sessions.

Listening skills  

To be able to listen to a person that wants help in telling their story or memoir is imperative for a ghost writer. Whilst questions will be used to prompt an interviewee, there will be times when the client will want to open up and just talk. And it is then a ghost writer should listen and start to help the client to focus on the story that is to be told.

Listening skills are also important for building up trust between the ghost writer and client. The ghost writer will be trying to distil the essence of a story and preparing to make suggestions on how best to tell it. Listening effectively combined with a two way discussion will go a long way to achieving this aim.

What is the purpose of the story?

The interviews should aim to establish the story to be told and its purpose. Will it inform? Will it share experiences for people who have faced or will face similar situations? Will it entertain with an enthralling, complex story? This needs to be known and understood so that the focus will be on realising this intent.

Whatever its reason, a story should be told in a compelling way that captures the interest of a reader right from the beginning. A ghost writer will be able to help in achieving this aim. All stories should be told in an absorbing manner.

Regular feedback sessions

Once the story moves from an outlining stage to its formulation and eventual writing, regular feedback sessions should be held. A client should be willing to give comments and critiques where they can on work in progress. This will improve the final book and will ensure there are no shocks and all the expected subject matter is covered, for example.

Also regular meetings, reviewing how far the work has gone, may help flag up new ideas and provide an improved understanding of where the book should go. This method of working generally enhances the creative atmosphere between the ghost writer and client. Nevertheless, critiquing anyone’s work needs to be handled with care and tact.

The interview stage of a writing project, leading to outlining the scope and structure, can be a rewarding and stimulating endeavour for the ghost writer and client alike. Something new is being created that will tell the world the client’s own story.

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