Oral history teaching

Characterization in Oral History

Compiled by: Golestan Jafariam
Translated by: Fazel Shirzad


In the continuation of the series of articles in the field of "Training in Interview", which began with the article "a good start" and "ethics in the interview", we now turn to the topic of "characterization in the interview".

Knowing the elements, techniques of writing or telling story and its similarities with writing memoir are valuable for interviewers. The characterization is common elements between writing memoir and story. The narrator's personality can be identified through the interview - or more precisely - through the questions asked by the interviewer. In other words, the interviewer should encourage the narrator to "describe" as much as possible and talk about the details of the events by asking appropriate questions, so that later in the writing memoir, draw a picture of the narrator's personality to the reader with the help of these rich raw words and materials

Because characterization is a deep, broad topic, and success in this way requires attention to detail, it is not possible to address all aspects of it in a short article. In the words of Rumi:


I need a mouth to be as wide as the sky

Which the envy of the world to describe by


For this reason, here we will focus on only four general issues, the question of which plays a key role in portraying the personality of individuals: 1- Background, 2- Behavior, 3- Motivation and 4- His credibility with others.


1- Background

Each person's background is very influential in shaping his personality. Background refers to simple, general information about childhood, adolescence, and family history. Every human being has a past that begins before birth and encompasses his childhood and adolescence. We say it starts from "before birth" because even the relationships between parents are effective in shaping the personality of the child who will be born later. For example, a child whose parents are romantically married will be different from a child whose parents were forced to marry (how the parents met and married). The person who was the first child in the family is definitely different in terms of personality from the one who was the last child (probably the first is supporter and the second is to seek support), the one who had a sister is different from the one who did not ... Therefore, the interviewer should always have a set of questions to explore the narrator's family and childhood background. Each of these small but important pieces of information can shed light on a part of the narrator's personality.


Examining people's behavior will give us a lot of information about their personality. In fact, life behind the embankment, one's behavior in daily life and during simple daily tasks are important here. For example, how is the behavior of a person, who fired a shotgun from 8 am to 12 noon, at lunch time? Does he want to share his food with another? Or, for example, what is a person's behavior after entering a parliament or gathering of friends? Where do they take a chair? The first chair? Or the last one and end of hall? How does he react to compliments? The interviewer should encourage the narrator to describe these seemingly insignificant behaviors so that he or she can portray his or her character maturely and realistically through everyday behaviors.


Everyone is motivated by the smallest and most insignificant activity they do. In other words, every external action occurs based on an internal motivation. Therefore, a person who abandons job and financial security, social status, safe home environment, etc. and goes to war must have had a strong motivation. Or a captive is definitely motivated for the resistance he makes. Obviously, recognizing this motivation is effective in recognizing the personality of its owner. Therefore, the interviewer should be able to explore the narrator's motivation during the interview with appropriate questions and encourage him / her talk about it.

4- Trustworthy

Seeing the narrator in the mirror of others can help to know his/her character. It means the prestige, reputation and reputation of each person with those around him. A person may be trustworthy to others or, conversely, those around him may find him untrustworthy. For example, a student whose father is an electrician, even if he is not a student, is credited with the principal and the assistant, because they can get help from his father whenever there is a problem with electricity at school. Or, for example, a student is not a good student at studying but is strong in physique; he can arrange the lines quickly; so it is a trustworthy person for the principal. Trustworthy can be measured to a large extent by asking about the behavior of relatives and acquaintances and being careful in the memories of different periods of his/her life.


In addition to the importance of background, behavior, motivation, and credibility in the characterization mentioned, the effect of the photo in completing the characterization cannot be ignored. Sometimes a photo as long as twenty pages can be useful and introduce the character of the hero to the reader. The position of the hero (standing in the middle of the frame or corner of it) and the feelings of others towards him in the photo can indicate the importance and credibility of the person. For example, in the Jamaran Museum, there is a black and white photograph from 1341 that shows Imam Khomeini leaving a mosque in Qom. Photo taken from top position. A crowd, perhaps about a thousand people, surrounded the black car and the Imam was moving towards the car. The eyes of all these thousands were focused on him. Everyone has left everything and was looking at this clergyman. Such a photo expresses the personality, credibility and importance of the person better than any sentence or description.[i]


[i] Driven from the Oral History Training Workshop taught by Mohammad Ghasemipour in Tabriz; November 2017.


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