Crafting the Stories

I compare myself to a gold prospector....
The gold prospector starts digging and I start asking questions and up comes all this ore....
Now I gotta find the gold dust....
So I start editing, cutting....
It's not just gold dust;
it becomes a ring, a watch,
a necklace, a tiara.

—Studs Terkel
Pulitzer Prize winning author and America's foremost oral historian

The interview process is a gathering in. We collect as much information as we can.

The writing process is a cleaning out. We sort through the clutter of memories and organize them into a cohesive whole.

Our first task is to transcribe the interviews, paying attention not only to the storyteller's words but also to his voiceprint—the rhythms and inflections that are as much a part of his speech as the language.

Then we begin successive rounds of winnowing, organizing, writing, editing and rewriting. As the narrative takes shape, the storyteller begins to see his life in a new perspective, as if through the wide lens of a camera. This in turn leads him to focus more closely on scenes from the past, to recall more details that flesh out the story.

Today people want non-fiction to be factually correct, yet at the same time have the same elements as fiction—theme, strong characters, dialogue, sense of place, movement and direction.

Unless otherwise instructed, we use first person because it grants an intimacy that we feel is appropriate for a memoir. But, in most cases we layer the first person account with third person commentary to provide historical and cultural context and to create visual identification with the storyteller.

This specially-developed technique provides a textured narrative that is the hallmark of a Legacy Prose™ Word Portrait.

Continue on to "Producing the Book"

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