Jobs I’ve Had: Transcriptionist

by kipress

Another series of posts I’m working on: jobs I’ve had, and what I learned from them. Today: working on Hansard, which, as you probably know, is the official record of debate in Canadian (among other) legislatures.

For three weeks, until I got a better job offer, I was a transcriptionist at the Manitoba Legislature. Writerly insight here: the way people talk. People don’t make any sense half the time when they talk, especially if you let them talk for a long time. They make constant grammatical errors, factual errors, logical errors, and often by the end of the sentence they no longer remember what they were talking about in the beginning. At that’s in addition to the constant umming and ahhhing that we used to just delete in the ol’ typing pool.

(It really was like a typing pool, run by very nice semi-retired women who insisted that we all take our breaks at exactly the same time in the cafeteria next door, and would come get us if they thought we were spending too long at the reference-book shelf. They had a deadline to keep. Indeed, one day’s Hansard is transcribed, proofread, printed–if it’s still being printed–and on legislators’ desks by nine the next morning.)

(Another aside: the fact that I got this job should tell you something about me: that I can type like the wind–LIKE THE WIND–and with deadly accuracy, when I put my mind to it. The old ladies asked me where I learned to type. Where I learned to type? In grade five, with this great game where the faster you typed the word correctly, the faster you got new ammo to shoot the space invaders. I have no idea what it was called, but it set me up well on the Great Keyboarding Path of life.)

Dialogue in literature should NOT mimic dialogue in real life. It should resemble it, yes, but if you mimic it you get gobbledy-gook. It just doesn’t translate well. There’s a difference between the illusion of authentic dialogue, and actual verbatim dialogue, and the latter is no fun to read. And this is all why “realism” and “reality” are two really, really different things.