WRITE THEIR STORIES:
Developing the Biography, Part IV
STUDY your favorite biographies! These authors have walked this path before us and have much to teach us. Plus, their works are useful illustrations of both the art of biography and adjusted techniques of storytelling. Just a few days ago I received a marvelous little book on the life of Jules Verne. It is a library hardcover edition for “young readers” age eight to twelve. It is, for me, a very concise outline of how to write a biography—one that is quickly accessible and understandable for any age or writing community interested in writing biographies. The title is: Who Was Jules Verne? by James Buckley Jr. (There is a whole series that start with WHO WAS. I’m certain you’ll find one or more to enjoy.)
However, don’t forget the biography classics. Included in my collection is author Jean Fagan Yellin’s narrative biography of Harriet Jacobs: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl. For writers who wish to develop realism in their novels about the early history of America, or any biography attached to this time period, this book is essential reading. Yellin is admired for her “groundbreaking scholarship” in the writing of this book because it “restores a life whose sorrows and triumphs reflect the history of the nineteenth century.” Can you even imagine hearing your words acclaimed as bringing someone’s life back to life?
Although the majority of the biographies/memoirs that I may write will, most likely, never reach the acclaim that this book has, I approach the writing of it as if it will—as if this person is the most important person on the planet.
One of my all-time favorite writers is C. S. Lewis and until recently there has been only one highly acclaimed biography of his life: JACK: A life of C. S. Lewis by George Sayer. Within these pages are found instructive information nuggets about writing on many levels. However, recently, a new book has arrived on the scene titled: C. S. Lewis and the Art of Writing by Corey Latta. It is already being heralded as “…a treasure trove of eminently practical advice for the aspiring writer, and fills readers with a poignant sense of the nobility of the writing vocation.” It is also shorter than any of the others I’ve seen about Lewis! I can hardly wait to get my hands on a copy!
Each of the four books mentioned above will offer writers unique insights to build our own biography writing skills. And yet, I offer you one more to bring into your resources collection. The title is: The Biography of John Carey by Muriel Kinney and Carol Kinney Grimes. These ladies became passionate about their family ancestry—the heritage they are carrying forward. Because they wanted to honor their grandfather, they’ve written the story of one of America’s pioneers and, in doing so, offer readers detailed history lessons we’d never find in a textbook.
This is what I love about well written biographies—the blend of storytelling and well-researched historic facts. This is how a whole lot of other Readers also learn history—as they take our books home!
What I hope you’ll take away with you today is that Biography writing IS FUN! Writing within this one genre we can enjoy the writing techniques of other genres such as: children/young adult books, American (or any country’s) ancient to current history, books on “the writing life,” and personal genealogy. Who is the person who has captured your interests? What questions would you ask them if you stepped into a Starbucks and saw them sitting there? Make a list of people and questions today! Contact your local librarian to find out what has already been written about that person. Your approach to their story will be distinctive. It needs to be written and published! ⚓︎