How to Start Your Biography

Yesterday I blogged about how to start your nonfiction manuscript. Sharon asked how to start a biography, specifically a biography of a noted children’s author. I knew I had to look into it before I could answer her and my answer turned into this post.

First things first, lets look at the openings of several biographies for children.

Who Was Laura Ingalls Wilder by Patricia Brennan Demuth is a middle grade biography. The book opens with her birth, emphasizing that she was born a pioneer in a log cabin. Reading the description of the book, I see that it shows how similar her life was to that depicted in her books.

Dr. Seuss: The Great Doodler by Kate Klimo is an early reader. The book opens with Ted Geisel sitting in his studio. The phone rings and he discovers that he has won the Pulitzer. The story line steps back to his childhood and his ever present doodles.

Sharon specifically asked about biographies about authors but I simply have to include Dr. Fauci: How a Boy from Brooklyn Became America’s Doctor by Kate Messner. The subtitle reveals the slant. This picture book opens with a spread about how curious Anthony was about his fish and so many other things.

So how do you start a biography? As these examples show, there are many ways to do it including these three:

  1. Start with a scene of the person as a famous adult.

2. Start with their birth in a setting that supports the theme.

3. Start with a scene that demonstrates a trait that was vital in them reaching where they are today.

Often the key to knowing how to start the book is knowing exactly what story you want to tell, what you want to emphasize. If your focus is showing how Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up as a pioneer and then portrayed this life in her books, open with a scene that shows her as a pioneer.

Sharon is writing about an author. She could start with a scene that shows this person recieving an award. She could start with a scene showing this person telling a story to their friends. Or she could do something completely different that reveals something special about her subject.

How you start your nonfiction book will largely depend on what story you want to tell.

–SueBE