How to start a good biography

Updated February 21, 2017

The most boring--and typical--way novice authors start biographies is by stating, "So-and-so was born on such-and-such date in such-and-such town." Beginning a biography in a way that captivates an audience and makes them want to read more requires creativity and imagination. You don't have to start at the beginning of the individual's life. Rather, review your research and select the most fascinating element about the person: something that will keep readers turning the pages until they reach the very end of your biography.

Describe an event in the subject's childhood. Perhaps his family struggled to make ends meet and he worked every day after school. Maybe he endured a tragedy, such as the death of a sibling or parent. Write a vivid account of an event that occurred in the subject's youth and shaped who he became as an adult.

Write about the subject's parents, and discuss their childhoods, youth and upbringing. Parents often shape a child's perspectives, morals and ambitions, as well as the type of person the child ultimately becomes. Explore how the subject's parents influenced her in terms of her interests, personality and character.

Describe a pivotal or suspenseful event in the subject's adult life. Maybe the subject was the valedictorian of his graduating class, was arrested for theft or murder, found the love of his life or witnessed the death of a friend. You don't have to give away the entire story in the first few paragraphs; just offer the reader enough so that he'll want to read more.

Write about when the person first realised she was famous or influential. When people gain notoriety it can affect them deeply, often positively but sometimes negatively. If you're writing about a well-known actress, discuss the moment when fans first asked for her autograph or when the paparazzi first followed her. Write about how she felt during those first moments of fame.

Discuss a recent event or something that occurred in the person's later years. As people age, their perceptions and outlooks on life change. Offer personal reflections from the subject to introduce the person's story from his current point of view.

Start with a story from someone who knows the subject of the biography well, such as a friend, family member, business colleague or spouse. Include an anecdote that gives an insider's look into the person and reveals the individual's character, temper, goals, ambition or faith.

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About the Author

Angela Brown has been a book editor since 1997. She has written for various websites, as well as National Public Radio, Pacifica Radio and more than 20 fiction anthologies. Brown earned a Bachelor of Arts in theater and English from the University of Wisconsin.