Writing biographies is a passion shared by some incredible writers. If you have decided that your next book will be a biography, you’re in good company. Some of the most famous biographers are Plutarch, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Thomas More. The following article explains how to write a biography.
Authorized or Unauthorized
An authorized biography is where the subject or their estate assists the writer and an unauthorized one is where they do not.
There are many benefits of an authorized biography. You will have access to the subject and the people who know them well; you may also have access to private letters, journals, and photographs. On the other hand, you may have to agree to share the royalties with your subject. However, It’s not always the case. This is based on negotiation. Remember that a biography will create publicity, so there is already a reward in the project for the subject.
If you can’t get authorization for your biography or don’t wish to share credit and financial rewards, consider writing an unauthorized biography. Your biography can still be written, published, and sold, although you may run into problems with the subject or their estate. There can be legal ramifications to publishing an unauthorized biography, more so if the person you’re writing about is not a public figure. As always, be wary of libel and defamation in your writing.
Research and Interview
Once you’ve got the legal stuff out of the way, you can dig into the research. You could dedicate a notebook or document to take notes and plan carefully in advance. You may benefit from a bullet journal to help you organize tasks.
Compile a list of questions you would like the answers to, and then arrange them into a more naturally-flowing interview. If you have a lot of questions, it is much better to set up multiple interviews. You will need the time to cover everything in detail, so don’t try to get it all into one session. While interviewing your subject, always consider their comfort. Ensure they have water on-hand, and let them take breaks, or finish, when they need to. You could also interview their family, friends, or colleagues, particularly if someone famous or prominent in their field knows your subject.
If your subject has a body of work behind them, you’ll need to dig into that. Read their books, watch their films, and ask questions about them. It’s also worth reading other biographies that have been written about them and find articles involving them.
Don’t forget to thank your interviewees.
Position Your Voice
The advice that it’s not about you is excellent advice as any media coverage will focus on the subject, not the author. However, it is your writing, and the authorial voice will be yours. It is acceptable to include your thoughts about something the subject did, and it can lend readability and entertainment value to the book. The book is your creative project, and you are the writer. Your subject may not understand the rules of writing as you do, and they may have their own ideas on how it should be produced, but stand your ground, but be polite.
Always keep in mind that you are writing to inform and entertain. That should be your priority, despite the added responsibility to stay true to the facts and not defame your subject.
There are many ways to structure a book, and they work for biographies too. You can write about your subject’s life chronologically (from beginning to end, in order), or you can even use the three-act structure favored by novelists. Some other methods of structuring a book are Freytag’s Pyramid, in media res (start at the end then explain how you got there), or the age-old Hero’s Journey method. There are some excellent biographies out there with creative narrative styles, but don’t try to reinvent the wheel.
However you decide to structure your biography, always start with an outline. Write up a chapter-by-chapter plan for your book, and try to keep yourself on track with it when you write. This is the best way to remain organized, and it will ensure your book reads well. An outline doesn’t have to be lengthy, although some writers choose to develop detailed outlines. A few lines per chapter works fine. An outline acts as a framework for research and to-do lists, breaking the book down into chapters.
Biographies are one of the most rewarding books to write, preserving human history for years to come. So now that you know how to write a biography, it’s time to contact your favorite role model and get started on writing one.