Case Study of a Life Story: Part 2 – Writing the Story

In the first installment of the series, I discussed my first meeting with my client Borge Hansen, who had dictated his life story into audiotapes.

I transcribed the tapes one side at a time. Understanding and spelling the names of places Borge visited and people he encountered in his world travels turned out to be a challenge. Sometimes I had to replay a small section of tape several times and then guess at the spelling. It typically took me two or three hours to transcribe a one-hour recording. Then I spent another two or three hours editing the document, trying to keep a good balance between making the book readable and maintaining the author’s voice.

When we talk, we tend to repeat favorite expressions and patterns. The spoken word doesn’t always translate well to the written page. I wanted readers to “hear” Borge when they read the words of the book, yet I wanted to eliminate the “uh-and-uhs” that we all use when we talk. I also wanted to avoid overusing his favorite expressions, which can be endearing in conversation and tedious in written narrative. The more I listened to Borge’s voice on the tapes, the better I understood him and the more comfortable I became with making changes. As with all my clients, I wanted Borge’s book to sound exactly like him—only better.

If I couldn’t understand some of the words on the tape or if I wasn’t clear on the meaning, I asked a question or typed a few question marks to show there was missing information.

After I finished transcribing and editing one side of a tape, I sent it to Borge and Brigitte. I typically do this via e-mail, but they preferred that I fax the documents to them. They reviewed the documents, made manual corrections, then faxed the pages with changes back to me.

I made the corrections, read the manuscript again, and made a few more corrections. Then I sent the revised manuscript back to Borge and started on the next side or the next tape.

After both sides of all five tapes had been transcribed, edited, and reviewed, I combined all the documents into a single manuscript. Then I read the story from beginning to end, adding transitions to ensure the story flowed smoothly, and inserting chapter breaks. I did more editing, especially at the beginning of the book as I had a better understanding of Borge and his voice than I did when I started.

I put the entire manuscript on a CD, which Borge took to a copy shop to have printed. Borge and Brigitte then reviewed the printout and made some corrections and changes. I incorporated their changes into the document and edited it once again. At that point, I discovered a few discrepancies, such as a name spelled one way in chapter two and the same name spelled slightly differently in chapter five. So I called Borge to ask him questions, then made the corrections based on his answers.

Finally, we had a written story! Next step: turn that story into a book.

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