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Thanksgiving Morrow: Turn the National Day of Listening into Your Next Short Story

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Becoming a good writer is not just the act of putting words on paper. It assumes you are an avid reader, ready observer, adroit interviewer, and focused listener.

The day after Thanksgiving, November 26th, you are invited to hone your interviewing and listening skills by participating in the National Day of Listening, sponsored by Story Corps and the Fetzer Institute.

The Story Corps web site has everything you need for preparing and conducting the interview, for example, how to select an interview partner, choose the recording equipment, create the interview questions, set the location, begin the interview, keep the conversation flowing, wrap it up, and preserve and share the conversation. Click here for the instructional PDF. You even will find a comprehensive question list provided. One neat feature of the Story Corps site is the question generator that allows you to create and print a list of questions tailored to your interviewee.

For the energetic writer, preserving and sharing the audio interview is not the end point. It's the beginning of a wonderful short (or not so short) story. To ensure you have everything you need to write it, you'll want to plan ahead -- before you conduct the interview.

Below are 12 steps for turning your interview into a great short story.

1. Identify your interviewee -- and some reasons why you chose him/her. This will provide initial insight into the message or theme that may evolve from the interview.

2. Scan the great-questions list for ideas of questions related to your potential theme.

3. Scan the Add Zest material from to identify any items your interviewee can bring to the interview, such as photos, momentos, etc.

4. Contact your interviewee to discuss the interview -- and the experiences/events s/he wants to include, for example: growing up, parents, school, love and relationships, marriage, working, religion, serious illness, raising children, family heritage, war. This will help further refine your ideas about the theme.

5. Prepare your list of questions based on your interviewee contact, making sure the questions relate to the overall theme.

6. Conduct/record the interview, revising questions as appropriate.

7. Transcribe your digital recording, by importing it into a speech recognition program or by hiring someone to transcribe it for you.
8. Read the transcribed interview file for a general idea of the story.

9. Sequence the material according to three basic parts: beginning, middle, and end, deleting irrelevant or redundant passages.

10. Put the story aside for a day or two, then read it to make another round of revisions.

11. Read the story aloud into a recorder. Listen to ensure it has a powerful beginning, keeps moving and doesn't sag in the middle, and builds to a dramatic conclusion. Does it have enough zest? If not, sprinkle in more.

12. Proofread your story -- then voila, it's good to go... to your interviewee, your blog, a magazine or ezine, or any number of outlets that accept good short stories.

Enjoy honing your interview, listening, and writing skills during this entire holiday season. For more ideas, including how to start a memoir from just seven memories, please visit