WRITE THEIR STORIES:
Developing the Biography, Part III
SO…what are the most important things to include in a biography without getting lost in the research? Most writers I know literally love doing research no matter what genre they’re currently working in. However, researching the lives of people who are no longer living—and, yes, those who are still on the planet—can be intriguing to the point of obsession. If you’ve ever delved into your own genealogy you know exactly what I’m talking about.
The best way I’ve found to keep on track is to prepare a question outline then briefly answer each one. This is what it looks like.
- Who is my client? The actual person I’m writing for? OR a relative of theirs? OR is this an assignment from a publishing house? What are their expectations for the length of the book and the due dates for 1st draft, 2nd draft and final?
- What is the purpose of this biography? Is the focus on infant to early adulthood? Their career? Their ministry? Their “fall” into a troubled life?
- When (what time period) did they live in? Does the client want specific information about what was happening in the world during these years?
- Where will I be developing this work? Has the client hired me to visit the locations where the subject lived between birth and death?
- Why? WHY have I accept this project? Do I have a personal interest in this subject/person or certain elements of their lives?
Once I’ve briefly answered those questions, I move forward to my next set of queries. These are very basic and, again, answer them as briefly as possible.
- Who is the subject of this book? Name. Place and date of birth and death (if applicable).
- What is this person’s “claim to fame?” Major achievement(s).
- When did they attend school? Which schools? Any outstanding awards?
- Where did they live? Did their community acknowledge them in any way? Did their name appear in local newspapers? Why?
- Why did they choose their career path? Or…were there multiple careers? Any significant contributions to those fields?
With the responses to these set of questions you will be creating a Basic Timeline of this person’s life. These facts will keep your manuscript from wandering. Although sidebar pieces of information—that relate to a different time in the subject’s life—are often added throughout a biography, it is essential for the writer to be extremely clear about when things happened. If the when-facts become jumbled a biography becomes useless.
At this point of manuscript development I suggest writers contact their client and review the direction they want the book to go. ASK them who they want this book to speak to—who will be the reading audience. This is another critical piece of information for the writer because it sets the TONE for your work—how you will creatively shape the story you’re about to write.
Biography writing is an exciting genre and one that will utilize every writing skill you have. It is also a genre much sought after by libraries around the world giving the writer/biographer an excellent platform from which to promote all your writing abilities. I encourage every writer to develop at least one biography in their career. It is, indeed, an amazing journey! ⚓︎
ABOUT ROYALENE DOYLE: Royalene has been writing something since before kindergarten days and continues to love the process. Through her small business—DOYLE WRITING SERVICES—she brings more than 40 years of writing experience to authors who need “just a little assistance” with completing their projects. This is a nice fit as she develops these blogs for Outskirts Press (OP) a leading self-publisher, and occasionally accepts a ghostwriting project from one of their clients. Her recent book release (with OP) titled FIREPROOF PROVERBS, A Writer’s Study of Words, is already receiving excellent reviews including several professional writer’s endorsements given on the book’s back cover.
Royalene’s writing experience grew through a wide variety of positions from Office Manager and Administrative Assistant to Teacher of Literature and Advanced Writing courses and editor/writer for an International Christian ministry. Her willingness to listen to struggling authors, learn their goals and expectations and discern their writing voice has brought many manuscripts into the published books arena.