The Lessons of Gabriel Garcia Marquez

As a journalist, I adhere to the old adage that you can't have great writing without great reporting (even if you're only reporting the blunt truths of your personal experience like Jane Austen or Emily Dickinson did). That's why I would recommend this article from the Columbia Journalism Review to anyone interested in writing fiction.

Before (and after) he became an acclaimed novelist, Gabriel Garcia Marquez was a reporter in Colombia and Europe, and he learned many lessons in the newsroom that he later applied to his short stories and novels. I was particularly struck by this observation:

The majority of journalists let the tape recorder do the work, and they think that they are respecting the wishes of the person they are interviewing by retranscribing word for word what he says. They do not realize that this work method is really quite disrespectful: whenever someone speaks, he hesitates, goes off on tangents, does not finish his sentences, and he makes trifling remarks. For me the tape recorder must only be used to record material that the journalist will decide to use later on, that he will interpret and will choose to present in his own way. In this sense it is possible to interview someone in the same way that you write a novel or poetry.

I see this as an admonition to both journalists and novelists — the truth, very often, lies in those tangents and trifling marks.