Whenever I write an article, I have a concept for the angle before I even pitch the story. Most of the time, the angle is the reason an editor accepts the piece. Profiles, whether business or an individual, tend to work the opposite way. I try to find a theme to pull out after conducting the interview.
Feature Article for Life in the Ivy Magazine
I accepted an assignment from Mary Garner with Life in the Ivy, a small publication focused on the Ivy Hill community in Central Virginia. I scheduled an interview with Nan Perdue, knowing a few details about her — mother, widow, golf champion, and friendly neighbor.
When I actually spoke with Nan, I found her underlying energy. She’s an outdoorswoman to the core. Nan’s the kind of lady who worries her adult daughters because she wants to mow her lawn shortly after a medical emergency.
When we stepped outside onto the golf green behind her home, I watched her inhale the smell of the mud. I realized that this is her heaven on earth.
How to Find a Theme for Your Profile Interview
As I asked Nan my pre-planned questions, I started underlining a few notes. She mentioned several active hobbies and most of her memories were linked to wild and free moments.
So, I added in a few follow-up questions to capture that spirit. We talked about her childhood on the farm and how she loved tossing hay. We discussed how she really would like to trim her own hedges but, it’s not safe at her age. I managed to get quotes that emphasized her personality without dropping that thudding question, “How would you describe yourself?”
Staying in the Interview
Ideally, interviews should not feel like interviews. They should sound like a conversation. I prefer to write my questions beforehand and then record the exchange. (I always reveal the device and get permission to record on the audio clip). This even helps with noting what is “on the record” and “off the record.”
Since I don’t need to transcribe quotes, I use my free hands to make notes about follow-up questions. They’re mostly details like dates, spelling for names, or exact locations. I don’t ask these immediately after the interviewee tells a story. That disrupts the flow. Instead, I spend a few minutes, in the end, wrapping up those details.
Asking for Stories
When I write a profile, I’m not looking for soundbites. I want stories that a reader can retell. In a 1000 word article, two or three strong stories can string together facts like pearls on a necklace.
Most of my questions say, “Tell me about a time…” This allows people to reference their memory. As they engage with their recollection, their narrative becomes more engaging and their natural voice surfaces.
Developing an Angle
After I transcribe the interview, I write a headline. It may not be the final title but, it focuses the story around a theme.
Then, I write a final sentence that echoes the sentiment of that headline. As I put together the article, I pull out the stories that fit in the narrative and deemphasize extraneous exposition.
See an example of this process by reading my profile on Nan Perdue below.
MEET YOUR NEIGHBOR: NAN PERDUE
Originally published at Life in the Ivy
Nan Perdue will never stay inside on a sunny day. Her love of the great outdoors is part of why she and her late husband moved into Ivy Hills. They saw the rolling greens and knew they found a home. Her residence was the first house occupied in 1973 and since 1985, her family has made their fair share of Ivy Hill history.
Finding a Home in Ivy Hills
Nan grew up in Franklin County, VA where there were no nearby golf courses. After Nan and her husband married, they were stationed at Camp Lejeune, which offered free golf for military members and their families. Nan laughs, “We picked up clubs and knew nothing about it. But we got hooked fast.”
Later, a job transfer brought them to Forest, Virginia. In 1985, they moved onto Hitching Post Lane.
“We loved it here,” Nan recalls. “We had a good time together until my husband died of cancer in 1990. He didn’t get to enjoy our home long but, he had a good life here.”