Using Direct Quotes

How do you use the material from your interview? Direct quotes are the most powerful tool for nonfiction characterization. Direct quotations add authority and authenticity—readers will trust what you write when it”s in the subject”s own voice and quotes inject personality, especially when your subject says something more colorfully than you the author could get away with.

You might write, “He was depressed.” But your subject might say, “My dobber was really down.” Even using the same words, direct quotations pack more punch than authorial pronouncements.


It was the greatest day of her life.
“It was the greatest day of my life,” she says.

But writing up an interview doesn”t mean just stringing quotes together. After all, most of the time, most of what people say doesn”t fall under the heading of “good quotes.” Even the best interview subject can be rambling and inarticulate, repetitive and downright boring in the long stretches between “good quotes.” Just as you must select the key facts to include in your story, so too must you pick and choose among the torrent of words resulting from even a brief phone interview.

Learn more about the Fundamentals of Nonfiction Workshop.

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