How to Write a Biography

Learn how to write a biography with our comprehensive guide.

Farzana Zannat Mou

Last updated on Dec 8th, 2023

How to Write a Biography

When you click on affiliate links on QuillMuse.com and make a purchase, you won’t pay a penny more, but we’ll get a small commission—this helps us keep up with publishing valuable content on QuillMuse.  Read More .

Table of Contents

How to write a biography can be a fun challenge as you share someone’s life story with readers. You may need to write a biography for a class or decide to write a biography as a personal project. Once you’ve identified the subject of your biography, do your research to learn as much as you can about them. Then, immerse yourself in writing the biography and revising it until it’s best. What I am going to share with you in today’s post is how to write a biography. If you want to know the rules of how to write a biography correctly then this post of ours is essential for you. 

Introduction

While it’s true that most biographies involve people in the public eye, sometimes the subject is less well-known. But most of the time, famous or not, the person we’re talking about has an incredible life. Although your students may have a basic understanding of How to write a biography, you should take some time before putting pen to paper to come up with a very clear definition of biography.

Before knowing how to write a biography, let’s first understand what a biography is. A biography is an account of a person’s life written by someone else. Although there is a genre called fictional biography, by definition biographies are mostly non-fiction. In general, biographies trace the subject’s life from early childhood to the present day or until death if the subject is deceased. 

Biography writing is not limited to describing the bare facts of a person’s life. Instead of just listing basic details about their upbringing, interests, education, work, relationships, and deaths, a well-written biography should also paint a picture of a person’s personality as well as that person’s life experiences.

Tips and Tricks For How To Write a Biography

1. ask the subject’s permission to write a biography.

Here are the first tips on how to write a biography. Before starting your research, make sure you get your subject’s consent to write their biography. Ask them if they’re ready to be the subject. Getting their permission will make writing a biography much easier and ensure that they are open to information about their lives.

If the theme does not allow you to write a bio, you can choose another theme. If you decide to publish a profile without the subject’s permission, you may be subject to legal action from the subject. 

If the topic no longer exists, you don’t need to ask permission to write about them. 

2. Research primary sources on the topic

Primary sources may include books, letters, photographs, diaries, newspaper clippings, magazines, Internet articles, magazines, videos, interviews, existing biographies, or autobiographies on the subject. Find these resources in your local library or online. Read as much as you can about the topic and highlight any important information you come across in your sources. 

You can create research questions to help you focus your research on this topic, such as: 

What do I find interesting about this topic? Why is this topic important to readers? 

3. Conduct interviews with subjects and their relatives

Interviewing people will turn your research into reality: the people you interview will be able to tell you stories you can’t find in history books. Interview the subject as well as people close to them, such as spouses, friends, business associates, family members, co-workers, and friends. Interview in person, over the phone, or via email.

For in-person interviews, record them with a voice recorder or voice recorder on your computer or phone. You may need to interview the subject and others multiple times to get the documents you need.

4. Visit places important to the topic

Whenever you want to know how to write a biography, to understand the history of the subject, spend time in places and areas that are significant to the subject. This may be the subject’s childhood home or neighborhood. You can also visit the subject’s workplace and regular meeting places. 

You may also want to visit areas where the subject made important decisions or breakthroughs in their life. Being physically present in the area can give you an idea of what your subjects may have felt and help you write about their experiences more effectively.

5. Research the time and place of the subject’s life

Contextualize your subject’s life by observing what’s going on around them. Consider the period in which they grew up as well as the history of the places they lived. Study the economics, politics, and culture of their time. See current events happening where they live or work.

When you studying how to write a biography, ask yourself about time and place: 

What were the social norms of this period? 

What happened economically and politically? 

How has the political and social environment influenced this topic?

6. Make a timeline of a person’s life

To help you organize your research, create a timeline of a person’s entire life, from birth. Draw a long line on a piece of paper and sketch out as many details about a person’s life as possible. Highlight important events or moments on the timeline. Include important dates, locations, and names. 

If you think about how to write a biography You can also include historical events or moments that affect the topic in the timeline. For example, a conflict or civil war may occur during a person’s lifetime and affect their life.

7. Focus on important events and milestones

Major events can include marriage, birth, or death during a person’s lifetime. They may also achieve milestones like their first successful business venture or their first civil rights march. Highlights key moments in a person’s life so readers clearly understand what’s important to that person and how they influence the world around them.

For example, you might focus on one person’s achievements in the civil rights movement. You could write an entire section about their contributions and participation in major civil rights marches in their hometowns.

8. Cite all sources used in  biography

Most biographies will include information from sources such as books, journal articles, magazines, and interviews. Remember to cite any sources that you directly quote or paraphrase. You can use citations, footnotes, or endnotes. If the biography is for a course, use MLA, APA, or Chicago Style citations according to your instructor’s preference.

9. Reread the biography

Check the biography for spelling, grammar, and punctuation. Circle all punctuation marks in the text to confirm they are correct. Read the text backward to check for spelling and grammar errors. 

Having a biography full of spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors can frustrate readers and lead to poor grades if you submit your work to the class.

10. Show your biography to others to get their feedback

It is a momentous step of how to write a biography. Once you have completed your draft biography, show it to your colleagues, friends, teachers, and mentors to get their feedback. Ask them if they have a good understanding of someone’s life and if the biography is easy to read. Be open to feedback so you can improve the biography and make it error-free. Revise profile based on feedback from others. Don’t be afraid to trim or edit your biography to suit your readers’ needs.

11. Use flashbacks

Flashbacks happen when you move from the present to the past. You can start with the present moment, and then bring in a scene from the person’s past. Or you could have one chapter focusing on the present and one focusing on the past, alternating as you go.

The flashback scene must be as detailed and realistic as the present-day scene. Use your research notes and interviews with subjects to better understand their past to reminisce. 

For example, you can move from a person’s death in the present to reminiscing about their favorite childhood memory.

12. Outline Your Story Chronologically 

This is another important step in how to write a biography is to write an outline that describes your story in chronological order. An outline is a tool that helps you visualize the structure and key elements of your story. This can help you organize your story into chapters and sections. 

You can write your plan in a digital document or draw it with pen and paper. Remember to store your outline in an easily accessible place so you can refer to it throughout the writing process.

What citation style should I use for my biography?

Use MLA, APA, or Chicago Style citations based on your instructor’s preference when citing sources in your biography.

Should I include personal opinions in a biography?

No, a biography should be objective and based on facts. Avoid injecting personal opinions or bias into the narrative.

What’s the difference between a biography and an autobiography?

A biography is written by someone else about a person’s life, while an autobiography is written by the subject themselves about their own life.

Can I write a biography about a living person?

Yes, you can write a biography about a living person with their consent. Ensure you respect their privacy and follow ethical guidelines when writing about them.

Conclusion 

Other than creating a sense of closure, there are no set rules about how a biography ends. An author may want to summarize their main points about the subject of their biography. If the person is still alive, the author can inform the reader about their condition or circumstances. If the person has died, inheritance can be discussed. Authors can also remind readers how they can learn from the biographical subject. Sharing a closing quote or about a person can leave the audience with a point to consider or discuss in more detail.

For further insights into writing and to avoid common mistakes, check out our article on Most Common Mistakes in Writing . Additionally, explore the Best Writing Tools for Writers to enhance your writing skills and discover the tools that can assist you. If you’re looking to improve your typing speed and accuracy, our article on How to Type Faster with Accuracy offers valuable tips.

How we've reviewed this article

Our content is thoroughly researched and fact-checked using reputable sources. While we aim for precision, we encourage independent verification for complete confidence.

We keep our articles up-to-date regularly to ensure accuracy and relevance as new information becomes available.

  • Current Version
  • Dec 8th, 2023
  • Oct 22nd, 2023

Share this article

Leave a Comment Login Please login to comment 0 Comments Inline Feedbacks View all comments

Prev Previous Next Next

How to Write a Book Report With Examples

How to Write a Book Report With Examples in 4 Easy Steps

Do you have a book report to complete and want to know how to write a book report? We are right here for you! Book reports are useful in learning because they help students enhance their knowledge and critical thinking skills. At the same time, they give authors a detailed

How to Write a Novel For Beginners

How to Write a Novel For Beginners: A Step-by-Step Guide

Do you want to be a novel writer? Do you want to write a masterpiece novel?  Okay, no problem. Now you are in the right place. Already, I have got so many queries on how to write a novel for beginners. Some of the writers are worried about how to

How to Write a Letter

How to Write a Letter With Format, Examples, and Tips

Writing letters can seem to be out of date. But hold on! Even today, a well-written letter has a unique power. It allows for a deeper connection, a lasting impact, and can even sharpen your communication skills. Whether you’re reaching out to a loved one, applying for a dream job,

Report this article

Let us know if you notice any incorrect information about this article or if it was copied from others. We will take action against this article ASAP.

  • Profile Page
  • Edit Profile
  • Add New Post

Read our Content Writing Guide .

How to Write a Biography

  • How to Cite
  • Language & Lit
  • Rhyme & Rhythm
  • The Rewrite
  • Search Glass

How to Write the First Paragraph of a Biography

The writing process of a biography begins after you have researched your subject and compiled the information you will share with readers. An engaging first paragraph not only introduces readers to your subject but also provides a glimpse into the biography as a whole. Be concise, accurate and interesting in your introduction in order to capture your reader's attention.

Introduce your subject, including her name and any pseudonyms.

Add the subject's dates of birth and death (if applicable).

Include context, which tells the location where your subject was born, her nationality and ethnicity.

Explain briefly why your subject is important or notable. Give a one- or two-sentence summary of what she accomplished.

Tie in the subject's accomplishments to your reader's experience. Let the reader know why your subject is or was significant to others.

  • A typical paragraph runs from three to eight sentences. Write enough to introduce your subject. Expand on each piece of information that you include as you continue to write the biography.
  • While a biography is a work of nonfiction, that does not mean that it cannot be entertaining. Your tone can take the reader on a journey of a life that was marked by humor, despair, triumphs or struggles. Be creative in your descriptions and your biography will read like an engaging, true story.

Things You'll Need

  • Encyclopedia.com: Biography
  • Scholastic Teachers: Write a Biography

Lalaena Gonzalez-Figueroa has worked as a freelance writer since 1997. She has contributed to a number of print and online publications including BabyZone.com, "The Tallahassee Democrat," "Broker Agent Magazine" and "MD News" magazine." She also writes creative fiction for adults and children. Gonzalez-Figueroa graduated in 1998 from Florida State University with a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing.

  • PRO Courses Guides New Tech Help Pro Expert Videos About wikiHow Pro Upgrade Sign In
  • EDIT Edit this Article
  • EXPLORE Tech Help Pro About Us Random Article Quizzes Request a New Article Community Dashboard This Or That Game Popular Categories Arts and Entertainment Artwork Books Movies Computers and Electronics Computers Phone Skills Technology Hacks Health Men's Health Mental Health Women's Health Relationships Dating Love Relationship Issues Hobbies and Crafts Crafts Drawing Games Education & Communication Communication Skills Personal Development Studying Personal Care and Style Fashion Hair Care Personal Hygiene Youth Personal Care School Stuff Dating All Categories Arts and Entertainment Finance and Business Home and Garden Relationship Quizzes Cars & Other Vehicles Food and Entertaining Personal Care and Style Sports and Fitness Computers and Electronics Health Pets and Animals Travel Education & Communication Hobbies and Crafts Philosophy and Religion Work World Family Life Holidays and Traditions Relationships Youth
  • Browse Articles
  • Learn Something New
  • Quizzes Hot
  • This Or That Game
  • Train Your Brain
  • Explore More
  • Support wikiHow
  • About wikiHow
  • Log in / Sign up
  • Education and Communications

How to Write a Biography

Last Updated: April 13, 2024 Fact Checked

This article was co-authored by Stephanie Wong Ken, MFA . Stephanie Wong Ken is a writer based in Canada. Stephanie's writing has appeared in Joyland, Catapult, Pithead Chapel, Cosmonaut's Avenue, and other publications. She holds an MFA in Fiction and Creative Writing from Portland State University. There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 1,857,602 times.

Writing a biography can be a fun challenge, where you are sharing the story of someone’s life with readers. You may need to write a biography for a class or decide to write one as a personal project. Once you have identified the subject of the biography, do your research so you know as much about them as possible. Then, dive into the writing of the biography and revising it until it is at its finest.

Researching Your Subject

Step 1 Ask the subject for permission to write the biography.

  • If the subject does not give you permission to write the biography, you may want to choose a different subject. If you decide to publish the biography without the subject’s permission, you may be susceptible to legal action by the subject.
  • If the subject is no longer alive, you obviously do not need to ask permission to write about them.

Step 2 Look for primary sources about the subject.

  • You may create research questions to help focus your research of the subject, such as, What do I find interesting about the subject? Why is this subject important to readers? What can I say that is new about the subject? What would I like to learn more about?

Step 3 Conduct interviews with the subject and those close to them.

  • For in person interviews, record them with a tape recorder or a voice recorder on your computer or phone.
  • You may need to interview the subject and others several times to get the material you need.

Step 4 Visit locations that are important to the subject.

  • You may also want to visit areas where the subject made a major decision or breakthrough in their life. Being physically in the area can give you a sense of how the subject might have felt and help you write their experiences more effectively.

Step 5 Study the time and place of the subject’s life.

  • When researching the time period ask yourself: What were the social norms of that time? What was going on economically and politically? How did the social and political climate affect the subject?

Step 6 Make a timeline...

  • You may also include historical events or moments that affected the subject on the timeline. For example, maybe there was a conflict or civil war that happened during the person’s life that affected their life.

Writing the Biography

Step 1 Go for a chronological structure.

  • You may end up focusing on particular areas of the person’s life. If you do this, work through a particular period in the person’s life chronologically.

Step 2 Create a thesis for the biography.

  • For example, you may have a thesis statement about focusing on how the person impacted the civil rights movement in America in the 1970s. You can then make sure all your content relates back to this thesis.

Step 3 Use flashbacks....

  • Flashbacks should feel as detailed and real as present day scenes. Use your research notes and interviews with the subject to get a good sense of their past for the flashbacks.
  • For example, you may jump from the person’s death in the present to a flashback to their favorite childhood memory.

Step 4 Focus on major events and milestones.

  • For example, you may focus on the person’s accomplishments in the civil rights movement. You may write a whole section about their contributions and participation in major civil rights marches in their hometown.

Step 5 Identify a major theme or pattern in the person’s life.

  • For example, you may notice that the person’s life is patterned with moments of adversity, where the person worked hard and fought against larger forces. You can then use the theme of overcoming adversity in the biography.

Step 6 Include your own opinions and thoughts about the person.

  • For example, you may note how you see parallels in the person’s life during the civil rights movement with your own interests in social justice. You may also commend the person for their hard work and positive impact on society.

Polishing the Biography

Step 1 Show the biography to others for feedback.

  • Revise the biography based on feedback from others. Do not be afraid to cut or edit down the biography to suit the needs of your readers.

Step 2 Proofread the biography.

  • Having a biography riddled with spelling, grammar, and punctuation errors can turn off your readers and result in a poor grade if you are handing in the text for a class.

Step 3 Cite all sources...

  • If the biography is for a class, use MLA , APA , or Chicago Style citations based on the preferences of your instructor.

Biography Help

how to start a biography introduction

Community Q&A

Community Answer

  • Be careful when publishing private or embarrassing information, especially if the person is not a celebrity. You may violate their "Right of Privacy" or equivalent. Thanks Helpful 31 Not Helpful 5
  • Have the sources to back up your statements about the subject's life. Untruthful written statements can lead to litigation. If it is your opinion, be clear that it is such and not fact (although you can support your opinion with facts). Thanks Helpful 16 Not Helpful 15

how to start a biography introduction

You Might Also Like

Write an Autobiography

  • ↑ http://grammar.yourdictionary.com/writing/how-to-write-a-biography.html
  • ↑ https://au.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/how-to-write-a-bio
  • ↑ https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/writing/how-to-write-a-biography.html
  • ↑ https://www.writersdigest.com/writing-articles/3-tips-for-writing-successful-flashbacks
  • ↑ https://www.grammarly.com/blog/how-to-write-bio/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/editing-and-proofreading/
  • ↑ https://www.plagiarism.org/article/how-do-i-cite-sources

About This Article

Stephanie Wong Ken, MFA

Before you write a biography, gather as much information about the subject that you can from sources like newspaper articles, interviews, photos, existing biographies, and anything else you can find. Write the story of that person’s life, including as much supporting detail as you can, including information about the place and time where the person lived. Focus on major events and milestones in their life, including historical events, marriage, children, and events which would shape their path later in life. For tips from our reviewer on proofreading the biography and citing your sources, keep reading! Did this summary help you? Yes No

  • Send fan mail to authors

Reader Success Stories

Fargo Bcn

Jan 24, 2021

Did this article help you?

Fargo Bcn

Janis Hendrick

Oct 10, 2018

Teresa Bradley

Teresa Bradley

Sep 15, 2020

Lynn Kowal

Apr 18, 2016

Latanya Foster

Latanya Foster

Apr 26, 2016

Am I a Narcissist or an Empath Quiz

Featured Articles

How to Get a Nice Body

Trending Articles

Confront a Cheater

Watch Articles

Make Sugar Cookies

  • Terms of Use
  • Privacy Policy
  • Do Not Sell or Share My Info
  • Not Selling Info

wikiHow Tech Help Pro:

Level up your tech skills and stay ahead of the curve

TRY OUR FREE APP

Write your book in Reedsy Studio. Try the beloved writing app for free today.

Craft your masterpiece in Reedsy Studio

Plan, write, edit, and format your book in our free app made for authors.

Reedsy Community

Blog • Perfecting your Craft

Posted on Jun 30, 2023

How to Write a Biography: A 7-Step Guide [+Template]

From time to time, nonfiction authors become so captivated by a particular figure from either the present or the past, that they feel compelled to write an entire book about their life. Whether casting them as heroes or villains, there is an interesting quality in their humanity that compels these authors to revisit their life paths and write their story.

However, portraying someone’s life on paper in a comprehensive and engaging way requires solid preparation. If you’re looking to write a biography yourself, in this post we’ll share a step-by-step blueprint that you can follow. 

How to write a biography: 

1. Seek permission when possible 

2. research your subject thoroughly, 3. do interviews and visit locations, 4. organize your findings, 5. identify a central thesis, 6. write it using narrative elements, 7. get feedback and polish the text.

FREE RESOURCE

FREE RESOURCE

Biography Outline Template

Craft a satisfying story arc for your biography with our free template.

While you technically don’t need permission to write about public figures (or deceased ones), that doesn't guarantee their legal team won't pursue legal action against you. Author Kitty Kelley was sued by Frank Sinatra before she even started to write His Way , a biography that paints Ol Blue Eyes in a controversial light. (Kelley ended up winning the lawsuit, however).  

how to start a biography introduction

Whenever feasible, advise the subject’s representatives of your intentions. If all goes according to plan, you’ll get a green light to proceed, or potentially an offer to collaborate. It's a matter of common sense; if someone were to write a book about you, you would likely want to know about it well prior to publication. So, make a sincere effort to reach out to their PR staff to negotiate an agreement or at least a mutual understanding of the scope of your project. 

At the same time, make sure that you still retain editorial control over the project, and not end up writing a puff piece that treats its protagonist like a saint or hero. No biography can ever be entirely objective, but you should always strive for a portrayal that closely aligns with facts and reality.

If you can’t get an answer from your subject, or you’re asked not to proceed forward, you can still accept the potential repercussions and write an unauthorized biography . The “rebellious act” of publishing without consent indeed makes for great marketing, though it’ll likely bring more headaches with it too. 

✋ Please note that, like other nonfiction books, if you intend to release your biography with a publishing house , you can put together a book proposal to send to them before you even write the book. If they like it enough, they might pay you an advance to write it.  

FREE RESOURCE

Book Proposal Template

Craft a professional pitch for your nonfiction book with our handy template.

Once you’ve settled (or not) the permission part, it’s time to dive deep into your character’s story.  

Deep and thorough research skills are the cornerstone of every biographer worth their salt. To paint a vivid and accurate portrait of someone's life, you’ll have to gather qualitative information from a wide range of reliable sources. 

Start with the information already available, from books on your subject to archival documents, then collect new ones firsthand by interviewing people or traveling to locations. 

Browse the web and library archives

Illustration of a biographer going into research mode.

Put your researcher hat on and start consuming any piece on your subject you can find, from their Wikipedia page to news articles, interviews, TV and radio appearances, YouTube videos, podcasts, books, magazines, and any other media outlets they may have been featured in. 

Establish a system to orderly collect the information you find 一 even seemingly insignificant details can prove valuable during the writing process, so be sure to save them. 

Depending on their era, you may find most of the information readily available online, or you may need to search through university libraries for older references. 

Photo of Alexander Hamilton

For his landmark biography of Alexander Hamilton, Ron Chernow spent untold hours at Columbia University’s library , reading through the Hamilton family papers, visiting the New York Historical Society, as well as interviewing the archivist of the New York Stock Exchange, and so on. The research process took years, but it certainly paid off. Chernow discovered that Hamilton created the first five securities originally traded on Wall Street. This finding, among others, revealed his significant contributions to shaping the current American financial and political systems, a legacy previously often overshadowed by other founding fathers. Today Alexander Hamilton is one of the best-selling biographies of all time, and it has become a cultural phenomenon with its own dedicated musical. 

Besides reading documents about your subject, research can help you understand the world that your subject lived in. 

Try to understand their time and social environment

Many biographies show how their protagonists have had a profound impact on society through their philosophical, artistic, or scientific contributions. But at the same time, it’s worth it as a biographer to make an effort to understand how their societal and historical context influenced their life’s path and work.

An interesting example is Stephen Greenblatt’s Will in the World . Finding himself limited by a lack of verified detail surrounding William Shakespeare's personal life, Greenblatt, instead, employs literary interpretation and imaginative reenactments to transport readers back to the Elizabethan era. The result is a vivid (though speculative) depiction of the playwright's life, enriching our understanding of his world.

Painting of William Shakespeare in colors

Many readers enjoy biographies that transport them to a time and place, so exploring a historical period through the lens of a character can be entertaining in its own right. The Diary of Samuel Pepys became a classic not because people were enthralled by his life as an administrator, but rather from his meticulous and vivid documentation of everyday existence during the Restoration period.

Once you’ve gotten your hands on as many secondary sources as you can find, you’ll want to go hunting for stories first-hand from people who are (or were) close to your subject.

With all the material you’ve been through, by now you should already have a pretty good picture of your protagonist. But you’ll surely have some curiosities and missing dots in their character arc to figure out, which you can only get by interviewing primary sources.

Interview friends and associates

This part is more relevant if your subject is contemporary, and you can actually meet up or call with relatives, friends, colleagues, business partners, neighbors, or any other person related to them. 

In writing the popular biography of Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson interviewed more than one hundred people, including Jobs’s family, colleagues, former college mates, business rivals, and the man himself.

🔍 Read other biographies to get a sense of what makes a great one. Check out our list of the 30 best biographies of all time , or take our 30-second quiz below for tips on which one you should read next. 

Which biography should you read next?

Discover the perfect biography for you. Takes 30 seconds!

When you conduct your interviews, make sure to record them with high quality audio you can revisit later. Then use tools like Otter.ai or Descript to transcribe them 一 it’ll save you countless hours. 

You can approach the interview with a specific set of questions, or follow your curiosity blindly, trying to uncover revealing stories and anecdotes about your subject. Whatever your method, author and biography editor Tom Bromley suggests that every interviewer arrives prepared, "Show that you’ve done your work. This will help to put the interviewee at ease, and get their best answers.” 

Bromley also places emphasis on the order in which you conduct interviews. “You may want to interview different members of the family or friends first, to get their perspective on something, and then go directly to the main interviewee. You'll be able to use that knowledge to ask sharper, more specific questions.” 

Finally, consider how much time you have with each interviewee. If you only have a 30-minute phone call with an important person, make it count by asking directly the most pressing questions you have. And, if you find a reliable source who is also particularly willing to help, conduct several interviews and ask them, if appropriate, to write a foreword as part of the book’s front matter .

Sometimes an important part of the process is packing your bags, getting on a plane, and personally visiting significant places in your character’s journey.

Visit significant places in their life

A place, whether that’s a city, a rural house, or a bodhi tree, can carry a particular energy that you can only truly experience by being there. In putting the pieces together about someone’s life, it may be useful to go visit where they grew up, or where other significant events of their lives happened. It will be easier to imagine what they experienced, and better tell their story. 

In researching The Lost City of Z , author David Grann embarked on a trek through the Amazon, retracing the steps of British explorer Percy Fawcett. This led Grann to develop new theories about the circumstances surrounding the explorer's disappearance.

Still from the movie The Lost City of Z in which the explorer is surrounded by an Amazon native tribe

Hopefully, you won’t have to deal with jaguars and anacondas to better understand your subject’s environment, but try to walk into their shoes as much as possible. 

Once you’ve researched your character enough, it’s time to put together all the puzzle pieces you collected so far. 

Take the bulk of notes, media, and other documents you’ve collected, and start to give them some order and structure. A simple way to do this is by creating a timeline. 

Create a chronological timeline

It helps to organize your notes chronologically 一 from childhood to the senior years, line up the most significant events of your subject’s life, including dates, places, names and other relevant bits. 

Timeline of Steve Jobs' career

You should be able to divide their life into distinct periods, each with their unique events and significance. Based on that, you can start drafting an outline of the narrative you want to create.  

Draft a story outline 

Since a biography entails writing about a person’s entire life, it will have a beginning, a middle, and an end. You can pick where you want to end the story, depending on how consequential the last years of your subject were. But the nature of the work will give you a starting character arc to work with. 

To outline the story then, you could turn to the popular Three-Act Structure , which divides the narrative in three main parts. In a nutshell, you’ll want to make sure to have the following:

  • Act 1. Setup : Introduce the protagonist's background and the turning points that set them on a path to achieve a goal. 
  • Act 2. Confrontation : Describe the challenges they encounter, both internal and external, and how they rise to them. Then..
  • Act 3. Resolution : Reach a climactic point in their story in which they succeed (or fail), showing how they (and the world around them) have changed as a result. 

Only one question remains before you begin writing: what will be the main focus of your biography?

Think about why you’re so drawn to your subject to dedicate years of your life to recounting their own. What aspect of their life do you want to highlight? Is it their evil nature, artistic genius, or visionary mindset? And what evidence have you got to back that up? Find a central thesis or focus to weave as the main thread throughout your narrative. 

Cover of Hitler and Stalin by Alan Bullock

Or find a unique angle

If you don’t have a particular theme to explore, finding a distinct angle on your subject’s story can also help you distinguish your work from other biographies or existing works on the same subject.

Plenty of biographies have been published about The Beatles 一 many of which have different focuses and approaches: 

  • Philip Norman's Shout is sometimes regarded as leaning more towards a pro-Lennon and anti-McCartney stance, offering insights into the band's inner dynamics. 
  • Ian McDonald's Revolution in the Head closely examines their music track by track, shifting the focus back to McCartney as a primary creative force. 
  • Craig Brown's One Two Three Four aims to capture their story through anecdotes, fan letters, diary entries, and interviews. 
  • Mark Lewisohn's monumental three-volume biography, Tune In , stands as a testament to over a decade of meticulous research, chronicling every intricate detail of the Beatles' journey.

Group picture of The Beatles

Finally, consider that biographies are often more than recounting the life of a person. Similar to how Dickens’ Great Expectations is not solely about a boy named Pip (but an examination and critique of Britain’s fickle, unforgiving class system), a biography should strive to illuminate a broader truth — be it social, political, or human — beyond the immediate subject of the book. 

Once you’ve identified your main focus or angle, it’s time to write a great story. 

Illustration of a writer mixing storytelling ingredients

While biographies are often highly informative, they do not have to be dry and purely expository in nature . You can play with storytelling elements to make it an engaging read. 

You could do that by thoroughly detailing the setting of the story , depicting the people involved in the story as fully-fledged characters , or using rising action and building to a climax when describing a particularly significant milestone of the subject’s life. 

One common way to make a biography interesting to read is starting on a strong foot…

Hook the reader from the start

Just because you're honoring your character's whole life doesn't mean you have to begin when they said their first word. Starting from the middle or end of their life can be more captivating as it introduces conflicts and stakes that shaped their journey.

When he wrote about Christopher McCandless in Into the Wild , author Jon Krakauer didn’t open his subject’s childhood and abusive family environment. Instead, the book begins with McCandless hitchhiking his way into the wilderness, and subsequently being discovered dead in an abandoned bus. By starting in medias res , Krakauer hooks the reader’s interest, before tracing back the causes and motivations that led McCandless to die alone in that bus in the first place.

Chris McCandless self-portrait in front of the now iconic bus

You can bend the timeline to improve the reader’s reading experience throughout the rest of the story too…

Play with flashback 

While biographies tend to follow a chronological narrative, you can use flashbacks to tell brief stories or anecdotes when appropriate. For example, if you were telling the story of footballer Lionel Messi, before the climax of winning the World Cup with Argentina, you could recall when he was just 13 years old, giving an interview to a local newspaper, expressing his lifelong dream of playing for the national team. 

Used sparsely and intentionally, flashbacks can add more context to the story and keep the narrative interesting. Just like including dialogue does…

Reimagine conversations

Recreating conversations that your subject had with people around them is another effective way to color the story. Dialogue helps the reader imagine the story like a movie, providing a deeper sensory experience. 

how to start a biography introduction

One thing is trying to articulate the root of Steve Jobs’ obsession with product design, another would be to quote his father , teaching him how to build a fence when he was young: “You've got to make the back of the fence just as good looking as the front of the fence. Even though nobody will see it, you will know. And that will show that you're dedicated to making something perfect.”

Unlike memoirs and autobiographies, in which the author tells the story from their personal viewpoint and enjoys greater freedom to recall conversations, biographies require a commitment to facts. So, when recreating dialogue, try to quote directly from reliable sources like personal diaries, emails, and text messages. You could also use your interview scripts as an alternative to dialogue. As Tom Bromley suggests, “If you talk with a good amount of people, you can try to tell the story from their perspective, interweaving different segments and quoting the interviewees directly.”

FREE COURSE

FREE COURSE

How to Write Believable Dialogue

Master the art of dialogue in 10 five-minute lessons.

These are just some of the story elements you can use to make your biography more compelling. Once you’ve finished your manuscript, it’s a good idea to ask for feedback. 

If you’re going to self-publish your biography, you’ll have to polish it to professional standards. After leaving your work to rest for a while, look at it with fresh eyes and self-edit your manuscript eliminating passive voice, filler words, and redundant adverbs. 

Illustration of an editor reviewing a manuscript

Then, have a professional editor give you a general assessment. They’ll look at the structure and shape of your manuscript and tell you which parts need to be expanded on or cut. As someone who edited and commissioned several biographies, Tom Bromley points out that a professional “will look at the sources used and assess whether they back up the points made, or if more are needed. They would also look for context, and whether or not more background information is needed for the reader to understand the story fully. And they might check your facts, too.”  

In addition to structural editing, you may want to have someone copy-edit and proofread your work.

MEET EDITORS

MEET EDITORS

Polish your book with expert help

Sign up, meet 1500+ experienced editors, and find your perfect match.

Importantly, make sure to include a bibliography with a list of all the interviews, documents, and sources used in the writing process. You’ll have to compile it according to a manual of style, but you can easily create one by using tools like EasyBib . Once the text is nicely polished and typeset in your writing software , you can prepare for the publication process.  

In conclusion, by mixing storytelling elements with diligent research, you’ll be able to breathe life into a powerful biography that immerses readers in another individual’s life experience. Whether that’ll spark inspiration or controversy, remember you could have an important role in shaping their legacy 一 and that’s something not to take lightly. 

Continue reading

Recommended posts from the Reedsy Blog

how to start a biography introduction

What is Tone in Literature? Definition & Examples

We show you, with supporting examples, how tone in literature influences readers' emotions and perceptions of a text.

how to start a biography introduction

Writing Cozy Mysteries: 7 Essential Tips & Tropes

We show you how to write a compelling cozy mystery with advice from published authors and supporting examples from literature.

how to start a biography introduction

Man vs Nature: The Most Compelling Conflict in Writing

What is man vs nature? Learn all about this timeless conflict with examples of man vs nature in books, television, and film.

how to start a biography introduction

The Redemption Arc: Definition, Examples, and Writing Tips

Learn what it takes to redeem a character with these examples and writing tips.

how to start a biography introduction

How Many Sentences Are in a Paragraph?

From fiction to nonfiction works, the length of a paragraph varies depending on its purpose. Here's everything you need to know.

how to start a biography introduction

Narrative Structure: Definition, Examples, and Writing Tips

What's the difference between story structure and narrative structure? And how do you choose the right narrative structure for you novel?

Join a community of over 1 million authors

Reedsy is more than just a blog. Become a member today to discover how we can help you publish a beautiful book.

RBE | We made a writing app for you (photo) | 2023-02

We made a writing app for you

Yes, you! Write. Format. Export for ebook and print. 100% free, always.

Reedsy Marketplace UI

1 million authors trust the professionals on Reedsy. Come meet them.

Enter your email or get started with a social account:

BlueRoseOne.com

  • Learn How to Write a Biography: A Step-by-Step Guide.
  • Self Publishing Guide

Learn How to Write a Biography: A Step-by-Step Guide.

Human lives are intricate tapestries woven with experiences, emotions, challenges, and triumphs. Biographies and autobiographies serve as windows into these remarkable stories, offering insight into the lives of individuals who have left their mark on history or those who wish to chronicle their own journeys. 

I n this guide, we will explore the art of writing biographies and autobiographies, delving into the nuances of both genres and providing valuable tips on how to craft compelling narratives.

Understanding Biography and Autobiography

  • Biography: Exploring Lives Beyond the Surface A biography is a literary exploration that unveils the intricate layers of a person’s existence, transcending the mere listing of events. It provides a comprehensive account of an individual’s life, offering insights into their achievements, struggles, societal impact, and distinct qualities that define them. These narratives serve as windows into history, allowing readers to traverse time and understand the legacy left by remarkable individuals. Biographies are usually crafted by biographers, individuals skilled in research and storytelling. They undertake a meticulous journey of gathering information from diverse sources, such as historical records, interviews, letters, and secondary literature. The biographer’s role is to curate these fragments of information into a coherent narrative, painting a vivid portrait of the subject. This comprehensive approach lends credibility and depth to the portrayal, enriching the reader’s understanding of the subject’s contributions and character. Example:  Consider the biography of Mahatma Gandhi. A biographer compiling his life story would explore not only his role in India’s fight for independence but also his principles of nonviolence, his experiments with truth, and his impact on the world’s political landscape. By presenting a holistic view of Gandhi’s life, the biography reveals the nuances of his personality, beliefs, and the larger context in which he operated.
  • Autobiography: The Intimate Dialogue of Self-Discovery An autobiography is a narrative journey undertaken by the subject themselves—a profound sharing of one’s life experiences, emotions, and reflections. This genre provides readers with an intimate insight into the subject’s psyche, allowing them to witness their life’s trajectory through personal recollections. Autobiographies carry a unique authenticity, as they are composed from the vantage point of the person who lived those moments, providing a firsthand account of their journey. Autobiographies draw from the subject’s reservoir of memories, emotions, and introspections. This self-exploration leads to a narrative that is often more than a linear chronicle; it becomes a tapestry woven with the threads of emotions, thoughts, and personal revelations. By directly communicating with the reader, the autobiographer creates a powerful connection, allowing readers to step into their shoes and experience their story from within. Example:  A notable example of an autobiography is “The Diary of a Young Girl” by Anne Frank. Written during her time in hiding during World War II, the book offers a candid portrayal of Anne’s life, fears, hopes, and dreams. Through her own words, readers gain a deep understanding of the challenges faced by Jews during the Holocaust, as well as the resilience and humanity that Anne exudes even in the face of adversity.

Writing a Biography:

Research: The Foundation of a Compelling Biography Thorough research is the cornerstone of a captivating biography. Delve into reputable sources like books, articles, interviews, and archives to gather a comprehensive view of your subject’s life. By immersing yourself in these materials, you gain insights into their experiences, motivations, and contributions. Scrutinise the historical context to understand the era’s impact on their journey. Successful research forms the bedrock of your biography, enabling you to present an accurate and nuanced portrayal that resonates with readers. It’s through meticulous research that you uncover the hidden stories and connect the dots, allowing the subject’s essence to shine through the pages.

Selecting a Focus: Defining the Narrative Scope Choosing a focal point is essential for a well-structured biography. Decide whether to cover the subject’s entire life or concentrate on specific periods or achievements. This decision shapes the narrative’s trajectory, preventing it from becoming overwhelming or disjointed. A focused approach allows you to delve deeply into pivotal moments, providing a more profound understanding of the subject’s journey. By clarifying the scope, you enable readers to follow a coherent storyline, making it easier for them to engage with the subject’s life in a meaningful way.

Structuring the Biography: Chronology and Themes The organisation of your biography greatly impacts its readability. Structure your work into logical sections or chapters, employing either a chronological or thematic arrangement. Begin with an engaging introduction that captures readers’ attention and provides essential context. A chronological structure follows the subject’s life in sequential order, offering a clear timeline of events. Alternatively, a thematic structure groups events by themes, allowing you to explore different facets of the subject’s life. A well-structured biography guides readers smoothly through the subject’s experiences, fostering a deeper connection and understanding.

Show, Don’t Tell: Evocative Storytelling Vivid descriptions, anecdotes, and quotes breathe life into your biography. Rather than merely listing facts, employ descriptive language to recreate scenes and emotions, allowing readers to immerse themselves in the subject’s world. Use anecdotes to illustrate key moments, capturing the essence of the subject’s character and the impact of events on their journey. Integrating quotes from the subject, contemporaries, or relevant sources adds authenticity and depth. Through this technique, you transport readers into the subject’s experiences, enabling them to witness the moments that shaped their lives.

Balanced Perspective: Portraying Strengths and Flaws A balanced portrayal adds credibility and depth to your biography. While it’s tempting to focus solely on accomplishments, a well-rounded view includes the subject’s strengths and flaws. This authenticity humanises the subject, making it relatable and multidimensional. By acknowledging both successes and challenges, readers gain a more honest understanding of their journey. Balancing positives and negatives helps readers empathise with the subject, connecting them on a deeper level and offering a more genuine insight into their lives.

Engaging Emotions: Creating Emotional Resonance Emotions are a potent tool in biography writing. Delve into the subject’s feelings, struggles, and aspirations to create an emotional connection with readers. By tapping into their emotional experiences, you make the narrative relatable and engaging. Sharing personal challenges and triumphs allows readers to empathise and reflect on their own lives. This emotional resonance elevates the biography from a mere factual account to a compelling and moving story that lingers in readers’ minds, leaving a lasting impact.

Citing Sources: Ensuring Accuracy and Credibility Accurate information is vital in biography writing. Properly cite your sources to maintain credibility and integrity. Clear citations not only lend authority to your work but also provide readers with the opportunity to explore further if they desire. Accurate referencing safeguards against misinformation and ensures that your portrayal is based on reliable evidence. In addition to enhancing your credibility, thorough citations demonstrate your commitment to thorough research and ethical writing practises, contributing to the overall trustworthiness of your biography.

complete guide to write a biography. start writing your biography now

Complete Guide to Write a Biography. Start Writing Your Biography Now

Writing an Autobiography:

Reflecting on Significant Moments and Experiences Initiating an autobiography involves introspection into your life’s pivotal moments. Delve into memories that have influenced your journey, such as turning points, challenges, relationships, and achievements. Reflect on these experiences, dissecting their impact on your personal growth and development. By contemplating these key events, you gain insight into the narrative threads that weave your life story together. This reflective process sets the foundation for an authentic autobiography that resonates with readers on a profound level.

Developing Your Unique Voice and Tone Crafting an autobiography demands a consistent voice and tone that reflect your personality. Write in a way that feels true to you, capturing your unique perspective and emotions. Authenticity is key, as it allows readers to connect with your narrative on a personal level. Whether your tone is introspective, humorous, or contemplative, ensure it aligns with the essence of your experiences. By embracing your genuine voice, you create an autobiography that not only tells your story but also conveys the essence of who you are.

Structured Storytelling for Engagement While autobiographies can be more flexible in structure compared to biographies, organising your narrative into coherent sections or themes enhances its readability. By grouping related experiences together, you provide readers with a clearer understanding of the themes that have shaped your life. This structure helps maintain their engagement by guiding them through your journey in a logical and compelling manner. While allowing for creativity, a structured approach ensures that your autobiography remains focused and accessible.

Embracing honesty and authenticity Honesty is the bedrock of an impactful autobiography. Share not only your triumphs but also your mistakes and failures. Authenticity creates relatability, allowing readers to connect with your humanity and vulnerabilities. Your journey’s challenges and setbacks are just as integral to your story as your successes. By being candid about your experiences, you demonstrate resilience and growth, inspiring readers to reflect on their own paths. This level of authenticity fosters a deeper connection, making your autobiography a source of empathy and encouragement.

Adding Depth Through Reflection Incorporate reflection to imbue your autobiography with depth and meaning. Explore the lessons you’ve learned from your experiences and the transformations they’ve prompted. Delve into how these moments shaped your beliefs, values, and perspective on life. By offering insights gained from introspection, you provide readers with wisdom and a broader understanding of your journey. Reflection transforms your autobiography from a chronicle of events into a thoughtful exploration of personal growth and the profound impact of life’s moments.

Creating vivid details for immersion Immerse readers in your world by employing sensory details and vivid descriptions. Paint a picture with words, allowing readers to visualise the scenes and emotions you’re describing. By incorporating sensory elements like sights, sounds, smells, and feelings, you transport readers into the moments you’re recounting. This immersive experience draws them closer to your story, fostering a stronger connection. Vivid details not only make your autobiography more engaging but also enable readers to forge a deeper connection with your experiences and emotions.

In the realm of literature, biographies and autobiographies stand as powerful testaments to the diversity and richness of human existence. Whether you’re capturing the life of a historical figure or penning your own life story, the art of writing these genres involves meticulous research, introspection, and a keen understanding of human emotions. 

Through carefully chosen words and evocative storytelling, biographers and autobiographers alike can craft narratives that resonate with readers and offer a deeper understanding of the human experience. So, whether you’re writing about the extraordinary or the everyday, embrace the challenge and privilege of narrating lives through the written word.

Publish your book  with  BlueRoseONE  and become a  bestselling author . Don’t let your dream of becoming an author fade away, grab the opportunity now and publish your book – be it fiction, non fiction, poetry or more.

  • About The Author
  • Latest Posts

' src=

Mansi Chauhan

Protect your book now with copyright in the UK

You May Also Like

List of 10 Book Binding methods that you must know

Leave a Reply Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Save my name, email, and website in this browser for the next time I comment.

IMAGES

  1. 45 Free Biography Templates & Examples (Personal, Professional)

    how to start a biography introduction

  2. 45 Biography Templates & Examples (Personal, Professional)

    how to start a biography introduction

  3. 40 Autobiography Examples ( + Autobiographical Essay Templates)

    how to start a biography introduction

  4. How to Write a Biography (with Examples)

    how to start a biography introduction

  5. How To Write An Biography Essay

    how to start a biography introduction

  6. 45 Biography Templates & Examples (Personal, Professional)

    how to start a biography introduction

VIDEO

  1. Young Abraham Lincoln

  2. MargaretSpeaks Auto Biography Introduction

  3. nawazuddin Siddiqui journey #motivational #biography #trending #youtubeshorts #shorts

  4. The Prophet's Biography Introduction Part 1

  5. Self introduction in Interview

  6. Suchitra Mitra