So you’re writing a biography. Why? Ohhh, because your subject is interesting. She was a pioneer at what she did and her story deserves to be told. Sorry, that doesn’t make her interesting to me? I hope your subject struggled to be who she was. I hope she battled herself and the disbelieving, disapproving world to reach her heights!
Is her story set in a time when it was daring to do what she did? Were her conflicts man against man, man against nature, man against himself? Yes, this holds true for biographies as well as it does for fiction.
I wrote a short piece of entertainment about my own grandmother Aspiring to the Possibilities and people enjoyed reading it, however I wouldn’t say it was compelling reading.
My grandmother was something of a local celebrity in the circles in which she traveled, but her city, and the world at large, hardly knew who Dorothy Johnson was. I’d have to build up her biography and center it around her life as one of the first black, female, business owners in Memphis Tennessee.
She was a renown religious speaker and so I’d have to make something of the many famous ministers and pastors of the day who sought her out when they wanted to practice their sermons. I’d have to illustrate the many struggles that centered around being a woman and the secondary person in the relationship with her husband during a time when women couldn’t buy property or even open a charge card in their own names.
Knowing that she succeeded in spite of these restrictions would make her biography compelling to a women’s study group that wanted to read about successful women of the 1920’s and 30’s. Such a biography would need a theme and would need to be written by an author who cared deeply about the subject.
Achievements such as running her own businesses and being a recognized authority in her field would made her story worth telling. However, would they make her story worth reading? To do that, I’d need to share private moments, family secrets, anecdotes, and arguments. I’d need to sketch a woman in turmoil with worldly expectations to stay in her place when she felt her place was at the front of the line.
Instead of only chronological facts about my subject’s accomplishments, drama and tension would be needed to add suspense to her story. Readers would need the history of the times and any commentary, writings, and photos I could find. If I were lucky and could locate my subject’s possessions, I’d comb through them for any letters, correspondence, receipts, etc.
Are there biographies you’ve considered writing? All of us know someone amazing and it’s an even greater advantage if that person is/was the star of your family. You have a built-in audience of family and friends not only to draw anecdotes from, but to read or purchase your finished manuscript.
The link at the bottom of this article takes you to a Huffington Post article 11 Must-Read Biographies About Incredible Women. These biographies are written compellingly and may help you form ideas about the kind of biography you’d like to write.
Think of your subject as a character in a novel. Give her story a theme and show readers how she was an influencer or a pioneer. Make her someone that readers can relate to and be inspired by. Though your book may be strictly nonfiction, strive to make it read like drama!