writing nonfiction

Finding the Story among the Facts for a Biography


Dear Editor…

I’ve done so much research on my obscure historical figure that I think I know what kind of candy and dogs he would have liked. How do I begin to write a PicBk Historical Fiction or Biography when there is SO much to his story?

Thank you,

Dear Pat…

Writing a biography requires giving your subject’s life a unifying narrative—which requires narrowing your focus from all those facts to personal interpretation. What do you see when you look at that collection of facts? A man embodying the phrase “Don’t stop when you’re tired, stop when you’re done”? A man helping others at his own expense? Picture book biographies help children identify qualities that they already have in themselves or would be wise to cultivate. At this point you should identify the personal qualities that underpin the facts and events of this man’s life. To do that, make a list of catch phrases that describe his most notable qualities, as I did above. Then, pick one of those phrases to act as your book’s theme. THAT’s what you’ll write about, following that quality through the person’s life, using the facts to show that quality/theme at work. And if you get to talk about candy, all the better. It’s a book for kids, after all.

Happy writing!
The Editor