How to write a good biography

The best biographies are written for novel reasons. A biography aims to inform, captivate, enrage, inspire, or all of the above. They offer us an extensive insight into the life of a remarkable person. They are the lifeblood of any section marked ‘Non-Fiction’. The worst biographies are written for no reason at all. Or no real reason, anyway. They fail to capture the imagination and, as such, are often abandoned mid-way through, left unread on the dusty shelf of an obscure bookshop or marked as spam in a potential publisher’s inbox. And trust us, it happens all the time. But it doesn’t have to be that way… No, Sir. That is why we are proud to present the Story Terrace guide to crafting a hit biography for dummies. The Start of Your Biography: The Idea One of the first recorded biographies to grace the page was Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. Written in the 1st Century by the Charles Dickens of Ancient Greece, the book was a compilation of the life and times of famous men (Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and Coriolanus, to name but a few) ‒ and is, what you might call, a bestseller of the time. Plutarch’s idea was to not simply write the history of these people, but to reflect on their character and how it was critical to their success. It might not sound like a lot, but Plutarch was a life-writing revolutionary. He made the distinction between biography and plain old history, realising that the thing that makes a story interesting is not the facts or events, but the feelings and motivations of the people involved. Why would someone buy Katie Price’s bestselling autobiography Being Jordan when the information is available for free on Wikipedia? The answer is because it offers the reader a glimpse of the action, it narrows the gap between reader and subject, allowing us to understand them on a more personal level. So how does this relate to your spine-tingling biography idea? Well, whilst you might have an idea of who you want to write about, it is also important to take the advice of Tom from Your Life, Your Story and think about why you want to write about them. Think in terms of: what makes your subject interesting? What is it about your subject that a reader would want to know (that they don’t already)? How can you make the story come alive? The Research Depending on whether your subject is living, living and unwilling to help, recently deceased or long deceased, your research may take a different path… If they’re alive then your best shot, and primary research tool, would be to interview the subject, their family, friends and anyone else who may have a unique perspective on the person. There are three basic ways of conducting an interview: The hard journalistic method: Using heavily prepared, specific questions on a specific subject to reveal specific answers. The soft journalistic method: Using prepared but open questions, allowing the interviewee to move in the direction that they want. The conversational method: an open back-and-forth, letting the interviewee lead the discussion in the hope of revealing something a little special or unexpected. Each method has its positives and negatives, so it’s up to you to decide the best way of eliciting information from your interviewee. For example, if your collecting background information or trying to understand your subject as a person, then a soft journalistic or conversational method would probably work best. Whereas if you’re attempting to extrapolate succinct quotes or precise information, the hard journalistic method is the way to do it. … Continue reading How to write a good biography