Plot: Essential for your Biography

nonfiction plotOne of my students this semester is writing a biography of two well-known historic figures.  When you write about someone who is already the topic if numerous books, one of the trickiest things can be finding something to write about that isn’t the focus of anyone else’s book.  Fortunately, my student has done that because the friendship between these two people hasn’t been covered in writing for children.

You might think that writing her book would now be easy peasy, but you’d be wrong.  She still has to find a plot, or theme, to shape the book as a whole.  What do I mean?  This will be a story about their friendship but what about it? Possibilities might include:

  • How one of them taught the other person a valuable lesson
  • How together they overcame a problem that neither could conquer alone
  • Something surprising that they pulled off
  • Something they did that was secret

Come up with a plot (or some might call it the theme) and it will help you shape the story as a whole.  With it, you know which facts and events to include and what to leave out.  You also create something that is more engaging for the reader because it is represents a cohesive whole.   because there is never ever room for every fantastic fact that you find.  The theme will also shape the story that her piece of nonfiction tells.

Biography isn’t the only type of nonfiction that you need to shape.  You also need to do this with memoire and just about anything that isn’t an encyclopedia.  But even a manuscript about a topic that is broadly defined will leave some information out.  A book about how the city of St. Louis was founded, in part, by a fourteen year old won’t include information on the battles between Catholics and Protestants.  It will focus on how someone so young was put in charge of chosing a site and exactly what part he played in chosing the site and afterwards.

The beauty of nonfiction for children and teens is that it is lean and mean.  That’s what makes is so engaging and fun to read.



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