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How to Write a Biography: 8 Steps for a Captivating Story

by Yen Cabag | 10 comments

how to write a biography header image

We’ll just say it: biographies don’t often make the most exciting reads, especially when they’re loaded with fact after fact, and not much insight or narrative.

However, when the writer is passionate and highly knowledgeable about the story they’re telling, a biography can be just as riveting as an action-packed novel.

If you’ve considered writing a biography about the life of someone you admire or whose story interests you, you’ll definitely want to do a thorough job. The steps and information presented below will help ensure that your writing is accurate and well organized.

What Is a Biography? 

A biography is an account of a person’s life that includes facts and anecdotes from that person’s experiences. They can be great resources for studying the lives of fascinating figures, both living and dead.

Most biographies are written to tell the stories of famous or highly influential people, such as politicians, celebrities, athletes, and billionaires.

But biographies can also be written about ordinary people who have made an extraordinary impact on others, even if they are not extremely well-known prior to publication.

A biography may come with the label “authorized” if the subject or their family members gave the author permission to write the story. “Unauthorized” biographies are also frequently published, but without the permission or input of the subject, which may leave the authors subject to legal action.

Difference Between a Biography and an Autobiography

A biography is an account of the life of someone other than the author. An autobiography is an account of the author’s own life. However, the definition may be blurry in cases when a ghostwriter helps someone write his autobiography. 

A ghostwriter is a writer who helps another person in creating a book. This help may come in the form of collaboration, or the ghostwriter might do all the writing themselves. When a person wants to write their autobiography but is not exactly gifted at writing, they may ask a ghostwriter to help create it. 

What Should a Biography Include? 

Biographies usually share more intimate information about their subjects, compared to what is generally included in a feature article. The most interesting things typically included in a biography are: 

  • the subject’s family background and childhood
  • stories that illustrate their personality
  • their motivations, goals, and achievements
  • their key relationships, such as their siblings, spouse, children, best friends, colleagues, mentors, rivals 
  • their hidden fears or desires 
  • stories and anecdotes about their experiences, especially those that illustrate the traits you wish to highlight

How Do You Start Writing a Biography?

When you write a biography, you’re exploring the details of a person’s life, including their thought processes and emotions.

This means that you must be able to write with care and tact. You will also be analyzing the events in your subject’s life and explaining why they do certain things to draw connections between those experiences. 

The length of a biography can vary greatly. It might be very short, and divulge only the basic facts of a person’s life.

However, for most published works, biographies offer a deeper analysis, including many stories and examples that demonstrate the person’s unique character. 

1. Choose your subject.

Ideally, your subject should be someone whose life deeply interests you. Note, however, that this doesn’t mean you have to like the person. Many biographies are written from a critical viewpoint, in which the subject’s flaws and mistakes are analyzed.

Keep in mind that your feelings about the person will affect the way you write, and consequently influence how readers view the work. 

If your subject is still living, you should make every effort to interview them (or at least their representatives). When it comes to writing a biography, a you are writing about someone alive or not, the process remains the same, except for the fact that you can still interview a living person. 

An important part of choosing your subject is obtaining their permission. You need to ask the person whether or not they agree to let you write their biography.

If they agree, it’s all well and good! If they don’t agree and you proceed anyway, you might be subject to legal action should your subject decide to pursue it. 

If the person you choose to write about is dead, you will not need to ask anyone’s permission. 

2. Find out the basic facts about your subject’s life. 

If the person you are writing about is famous, you will likely be able to find certain details online, such as their birthday, family background, and other basic information. The same holds true even if he is not famous but you know him personally. 

Then, you can use news articles or similar sources to help you decide which part of their life interests you the most.

3. Conduct thorough research. 

For research, biographers rely on both primary and secondary sources.

  • Primary sources : If you are writing about a living person, primary sources might include interviews with that person, their family members, friends, and colleagues, as well as letters, journals, diaries, speeches, newspaper accounts, school records or reports, and other documents. 
  • Secondary sources : If you write about a famous person, chances are there are already other books written about them. Biographies that another person has written fall under secondary sources, as do reference books and histories that support your information.

Because a good biography will include stories from the subject’s experiences, be sure to collect personal stories and even anecdotes.

These will surely bring greater credibility to your writing, and make your subject more relatable to your readers. 

How to Write a Biography

Now that you’ve done your research, it’s time to begin writing the biography, starting with a detailed outline to help you organize your idea and information.

4. Write an outline of your biography. 

Once you’ve figured out the direction you want to take with your biography, an outline will help you organize your thoughts and information so you’ll be better prepared to start writing.

Create a bullet point for every main theme that you want to include which may correspond to one chapter. Then write another bullet, indented to the right, for each different sub-topic within the main theme. These will be the different sections inside each chapter. 

You have several options for writing your outline:

  • Chronological order : Many biographers go for a chronological account of their subject’s life, from the day they were born, through their childhood, school days, career, and so on. 
  • Specific time periods : Another way of outlining is to group certain time periods around a specific theme. For example, your subject’s difficult childhood may be lumped together into a theme entitled “Early Adversity.”
  • Thematic : Other biographers outline their chapters by themes. For example, a theme on your subject’s generous heart may include examples from across his life, while a theme on his intellectual prowess may also portray his academic achievements across many years. 

5. Start writing your first draft. 

Now that you have all your information collected, start to write your story based on the outline you prepared in step 4. Some writers prefer to write one chapter after another, while others don’t mind jumping around chapters. Experiment and find what works best for you. 

When you start to write, don’t worry too much about editing or fact-checking. At this point, just concentrate on crafting the story in an interesting way that will hook your readers. 

6. Take a break before proofreading and fact checking your first draft. 

You will likely be excited to start editing once you’ve finished your first draft, but you’ll actually be doing yourself a favor by taking a break for at least a few days.

In this way, you’ll be able to return to work with a fresh set of eyes, which will leave you better able to catch errors and see your work from a new perspective.

Once you feel ready, start scanning your work for typos, cut and paste paragraphs you want to transfer, and even eliminate whole passages that don’t seem to play an important role in the story.

This is also the best time to fine-tune and fact check your writing . 

7. Get another perspective.

Once you have smoothed out everything you can in your work, now is the time to get someone else’s feedback.

Whether you intend to publish your biography or not, it’s always a good idea to get feedback from someone who is skilled in writing.

Their comments will not only improve your biography, but also provide valuable tips for improving your writing in the future. 

8. Send a copy to your subject.

Consider sending a copy of your manuscript to the person whose life you wrote about in your book.

The copy may serve as a thank-you gift, but also, if you intend to publish your work, you will need them to approve, as well as fact check, everything you put into the story. 

Publish Your Biography

Congratulations! Now that you’ve finished writing your biography, you should start to work on getting your book published.

Check out our ultimate guide on how to publish a book , which features tips on self-publishing, as well as pitching to traditional or independent publishers.

Did you find this post helpful? Let us know in the comments below!

If you enjoyed this post, then you might also like:

  • How to Publish a Book: The Ultimate Guide to Book Publishing in 2020
  • 25 Memoir and Autobiography Publishers Currently Accepting Submissions
  • 20 Best Presidential Biographies to Read This President’s Day
  • The 16 Best Memoirs to Read Right Now

Yen Cabag

Yen Cabag is the Blog Writer of TCK Publishing. She is also a homeschooling mom, family coach, and speaker for the Charlotte Mason method, an educational philosophy that places great emphasis on classic literature and the masterpieces in art and music. She has also written several books, both fiction and nonfiction. Her passion is to see the next generation of children become lovers of reading and learning in the midst of short attention spans.



Great advice- Thank you !! have a question: if you write and publish a biography about someone who is still alive, what percentage of your profit(s) should you give them? (if I have their permission, and they paid nothing to publish- I did)?


This really helped my homework.

Virginia Ann Schafer

what is the best way to record interviews from your subject? tape? other technical equipment?

Kaelyn Barron

Hi Virginia, it really depends on your preferences. These days there are plenty of recording apps on smart phones that allow you to take high-quality recordings, which you can take easily take anywhere with you or transfer to other devices :)

Divinia R. Jaurigue

I have been thinking to write a biography of a living person who recently became popular due to his unusual talent and gift. I found this article to be a very informative and helpful guide. I hope I can get going one of these days. My big hurdle is how I can interview this person as I don’t have my own office to interview him and he is only around for a few months. By” around” I mean he travels all over the country. Thank you very much for your article. I will appreciate any helpful advice.

Hi Divinia, I’m glad you found the article helpful! You could always conduct phone interviews or video calls :) may not be exactly the same as face to face, but it can get you the information and insights you need :)


Thank you for a very inciteful article. I’m in the process of writing a biography of a former country music superstar who lost everything due to anger issues and alcoholism, only to recover and become a follower of Jesus, then start his own church and ministry. My question is, when an author writes a biography about another person, how do they decide how to share the proceeds of the book? Thank you very much for your time and advice.

Hi Hal, thanks for your comment! I’m not an expert on that, but I’m pretty sure there’s no rule that you have to share any of the proceeds if you write a biography about another person. Now, if you were helping that person to ghostwrite their own autobiography, that would be different, but still settled between the two of you.

Bobby Burns

This article is very useful and well organized. Writing the biography sounds like a fun project to undertake. The late James Baldwin spoke about writers writing something they’ve never written. I’ve published an autobiography and after reading your piece, I feel confident in writing a biography of a person who’s still alive. Thank you for your advice.

Thanks Bobby, we’re so glad you found Yen’s article helpful!

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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.



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).  

written biography story

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.  


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 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. 

written biography story

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.”



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.



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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. 

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

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How to write a biography: 7 life-writing ideas

Biography – literally ‘life writing’ – poses a variety of challenges. Balancing historical narration and day-to-day incident, for example. Or choosing what to include and what to leave out. Read 7 ideas on how to write a biography, with examples from biographical writing:

  • Post author By Jordan
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7 life-writing ideas:

  • Create compelling voice
  • Think about representation
  • Decide on narrative style
  • Use illustrative anecdotes
  • Find interest in the mundane
  • Avoid hagiography
  • Fictionalize where necessary

First: What type of biography do you want to write?

There are many different types of biography, both in fiction and non-fiction.

Popular types of biographical books

If you want to write non-fiction, you may be working on either an autobiography (a book about your life) or memoir , or a biography of a public figure.

Biographies can straddle both fiction and non-fiction, too. Many authors have written semi-fictionalized biographical stories (such as Now Novel writing coach Hedi Lampert’s novel , The Trouble with My Aunt ) with the author themselves as a main or supporting character.

For example, in Ivan Vladislavic’s Portrait with Keys , the author invents a brother. This fictional addition allows for lively debates between him and this imaginary relative about urban spaces and race politics in the city of Johannesburg.

Novelized biographies (such as Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre ) often follow a central character’s life arc in a linear way , from early life to later years or even death.

Other types of fictional biography include fictional letters and diaries. These allow you to play with other modes of representation.

For example, Sue Townsend’s popular Adrian Mole series (the first book being The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ ), presented as a British teenage boy’s diary.

Let’s examine 7 ideas about how to write a biography:

1. Create compelling voice

You could say that voice is a crucial ingredient of any story , especially in first person (where the narrator is the character).

In autobiography, in particular, you want your reader to form a clear sense of who is telling the story. Are they funny? Serious? Angry? Inventive? Philosophical? Just a little bit insane?

Consider the comical, self-aware voice that comes through from page 1 of Townsend’s novel. The first chapter, under the heading ‘THURSDAY JANUARY 1ST’, begins:

These are my New Year’s resolutions: 1. I will help the blind across the road. 2. I will hang my trousers up. 3. I will put the sleeves back on my records. 4. I will not start smoking. 5. I will stop squeezing my spots. 6. I will be kind to the dog. 7. I will help the poor and ignorant. 8. After hearing the disgusting noises from downstairs last night, I have also vowed never to drink alcohol. Sue Townsend, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13¾ (1982), p. 5.

Adrian Mole’s resolutions range from the virtuous to the droll (e.g. helping the ‘poor and ignorant’; scathing remarks on his parents’ drunken ‘disgusting noises’).

From the opening page there’s a clear sense of the voice of the subject of this diary-format biography. We form a sense of Mole’s desires, faults, attitudes and beliefs straight away.

2. Think about representation

Whether you’re writing fictional or non-fictional biography, how you represent events or tell the story is a creative decision.

Besides curating content (choosing what formative experiences, dramatic incidents, background details you include), there are different ways to approach representation , the way you tell the story.

As respected literary biographer Hermione Lee says, in an interview with James Rivington , there’s a difference between ‘autopsy’ and ‘portraiture’:

Autopsy, yes. There is a kind of biographical process that is, necessarily, cutting into the dead corpse, however ghoulish that can seem. You are as ruthlessly as possible trying to dissect and analyse the nature of the life. The other approach is more akin to portraiture: to see how the person looked from the outside, how they affected and influenced people, what their friendships were like, how they were one thing to one person and another thing to another person. I think you have get at both inside and outside if you can. Hermione Lee, interviewed by James Rivington for The British Academy

What Lee touches on is the issue of representation .

How will you mix biographical and historical facts (e.g. born here, raised there, had this key experience) with more painterly ways of revealing character ?

How to write biography - Hermione Lee quote | Now Novel

3. Decide on narrative style

Deciding how to write a biography means choosing between many available narrative modes or styles.

Will your story run from A to B to C, documenting each decade in a person’s life? Or will it be a crisscross portrait cutting back and forth in time?

A fragmentary style of narration may suit certain subjects and contexts better than a linear story. Says Lee:

I think that biography has to be watchful of making life seem too predictable, or determinist, or shaped, or ordered. Biographies go through fashions. There used to be a fashion for making the study run smoothly and look definitive – ‘this leads to this leads to this.’ I think life-stories are more bitty and piecemeal. Hermione Lee, interview for The British Academy

Example of inventive narrative style: Roland Barthes

As an example, Roland Barthes, a pioneer in semiotics (the study of signs and symbols and their interpretation), famously wrote an autobiography in fragments called Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes .

In this book, Barthes includes the preface ‘it must all be considered as if spoken by a character in a novel’.

What follows are captioned images from Barthes’ life, and then titled fragments where Barthes reflects on incidents, places, experiences and the development of his body of work.

For example, in a short section about the discomfort of writing called ‘Truth and Assertion’, Barthes refers to himself in third person , expressing discomfort in how words committed to paper express more than our original aims:

His (sometimes acute) discomfort—mounting some evenings, after writing the whole day, to a kind of fear—was generated by his sense of producing a double discourse, whose mode overreached its aim, somehow: for the aim of his discourse is not truth, and yet this discourse is assertive. (This kind of embarrassment started, for him, very early; he strives to master it — for otherwise he would have to stop writing — by reminding himself that it is language which is assertive, not he). Roland Barthes, Roland Barthes by Roland Barthes , p. 48, available here.

Fragments provide a fitting choice of narrative style for an unconventional autobiography that is as much a self-portrait of Barthes as a questioner of seemingly self-evident truths, as it is the representation of his life.

Barthes’ use of third-person and questioning reflections on the act of writing creates the ‘looking from the outside’ effect Hermione Lee describes as ‘portraiture’ in biography. Even as Barthes creates a self-portrait, he resists the idea of the ‘assertive’ author, the ‘completeness’ of the ‘final report’.

4. Use illustrative anecdotes

An English professor once asked his third year class ‘What is an anecdote?’

A girl put up her hand and answered, ‘It’s what you give someone when they’ve been bitten by a snake’, to which he replied ‘Please don’t ask someone for an anecdote if you’re ever bitten by a snake, for they will talk and talk and you will die.’

This is an anecdote. These usually short, often humorous stories about events involving a particular person are great fodder for biographies. They may illustrate a person’s quick wit or surly, non-communicative demeanor .

In biography, a brief anecdote may be all the reader needs to develop a sense of a key figure – a parent, friend, lover, rival or other.

Example of illustrative anecdotes: Dorothy Parker

The writer, poet and satirist Dorothy Parker is known for her witty comebacks and phrases.

One anecdote illustrating this character gives an alleged exchange between Parker and a snooty woman at an event, where both were trying to enter through a door at the same time:

It is recorded that Mrs. Parker and a snooty debutante were both going in to supper at a party: the debutante made elaborate way, saying sweetly “Age before beauty, Mrs. Parker.” “And pearls before swine,” said Mrs. Parker, sweeping in. Dorothy Parker, attributed. More on this anecdote at Quote Investigator.

Parker’s clever comeback to the woman’s quip about her being the older (and the implication she is less beautiful) evokes Jesus’s sermon on the Mount in which he said ‘Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine…’

The anecdote is a brilliant illustration of Parker as a quick-witted person with a sharp tongue and an ear for comedy. An anecdotal exchange here conveys a good sense of personality.

5. Find interest in the mundane

When we think about how a biography is written, we might think in terms of grand, important or scandalous events. Yet a biography is not a gossip column.

Lee makes this important point in her interview, regarding Virginia Woolf’s eventual suicide.

In writing the author’s biography, Lee describes the pitfalls of writing it as though Woolf was thinking about suicide every day.

It would possibly be sensationalizing (rather than allowing multiple ‘Woolfs’ to come through) to assume this linearity:

When, as in the case of Virginia Woolf, you have a very important, much-read woman writer who kills herself, there is a powerful desire to make the story move towards that point. You see that also in the life of Sylvia Plath – perhaps even more, because she was so much younger. It becomes all about the suicide. […] So one of my motives in writing about Virginia Woolf was to get away from the determinist sense of a story that had to end that way. Lee, interview for The British Academy

How do we make the repetitive, ‘boring’ parts of life interesting in life-writing?

  • Skip over them (e.g. ‘For the next 5 years she was busy establishing the Hogarth Press. Then…’)
  • Show their interesting place within a wider arc (e.g. ‘With every manuscript the Press put out, she gained a keener understanding of X that would lead to …’)

Writing biographical books - Hermione Lee quote | Now Novel

6. Avoid hagiography

Hagiography, the term for the writing of the lives of saints, also means ‘to display a subject undue reverence’ in writing.

The British statesman Arhtur Balfour is alleged to have said ‘Biography should be written by an acute enemy.’

There’s truth in this, since an enemy would dissect their rival’s life without mercy. Perform a thorough autopsy, and paint a colourful (even if unflattering) portrait.

In deciding how to write a biography, make sure you choose incidents that reflect multiple dimensions of the subject’s life. Their glorious and inglorious moments.

For example, to write the story of a now-revered author as the story of success after success may ring false for readers who know about the 12 rejections their first manuscript received.

Plan the scenes and incidents of a biography the way you would build a character profile. Ask, ‘What are the subject’s…’

  • Impressive moments?
  • Cringe moments?

7. Fictionalize where necessary

Author and essayist Geoff Dyer has written books in many forms, from travelogues blending fiction and non-fiction to books about writing biography ( Out of Sheer Rage: Wrestling with DH Lawrence ).

Dyer’s book But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz is an example of his genre-defying approach.

Part biography of renowned jazz musicians (including Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk), part homage to the improvisational and playful language of jazz, it combines historical details, photography and discussion of music. Rather than tell a linear story of each musician’s life, Dyer captures fleeting moments and experiences in a manner evocative of jazz music’s ephemeral nature.

This approach naturally involves plenty of fictionalizing, filling in and describing unknown details.

For example, here Dyer imagines a road trip where Duke Ellington’s driver muses on their road-tripping and the impossibility of recording every detail:

He’d bought the car in ’49, intending just to hop around New York, but soon he was driving Duke all over the country. Several times he’d had an impulse to keep a notebook record of how far they’d traveled but always he came to thinking how he wished he’d done it right from the start and so, each time he thought of it, he gave up the idea and fell to calculating vaguely cumulative distances, remembering the countries and towns they had passed through. Geoff Dyer, But Beautiful: A Book about Jazz (1991), p. 4.

Adding fictionalized events, such as particular exchanges between Duke Ellington and a driver that may not have happened ‘exactly that way’, is a useful part of biography. Like the driver’s thought process, there are ‘vaguely cumulative distances’ you, the biographer, must calculate and recreate for your reader.

Writing a fiction or non-fiction (or semi-fictional) biographical novel? Get constructive, considere d feedback from a writing coach.

Related Posts:

  • How to write memoir: 9 ideas for a vivid slice of life
  • How to write your life story: 7 tips to start
  • From trauma to triumph: using life writing to heal
  • Tags biography , life-writing , memoir

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Jordan is a writer, editor, community manager and product developer. He received his BA Honours in English Literature and his undergraduate in English Literature and Music from the University of Cape Town.

4 replies on “How to write a biography: 7 life-writing ideas”

This article is brilliant, useful and educational which I admired the most and I can’t wait to read more. Thanks for the topic you’ve shared!

Thank you, Rosella. Thanks for reading our blog and sharing your feedback.

I would like to write a biography of someone who is a brother to me. Inorder to be remembered forever.

That sounds wonderful. Have you started writing or planning it?

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Definition of Biography

A biography is the non- fiction , written history or account of a person’s life. Biographies are intended to give an objective portrayal of a person, written in the third person. Biographers collect information from the subject (if he/she is available), acquaintances of the subject, or in researching other sources such as reference material, experts, records, diaries, interviews, etc. Most biographers intend to present the life story of a person and establish the context of their story for the reader, whether in terms of history and/or the present day. In turn, the reader can be reasonably assured that the information presented about the biographical subject is as true and authentic as possible.

Biographies can be written about a person at any time, no matter if they are living or dead. However, there are limitations to biography as a literary device. Even if the subject is involved in the biographical process, the biographer is restricted in terms of access to the subject’s thoughts or feelings.

Biographical works typically include details of significant events that shape the life of the subject as well as information about their childhood, education, career, and relationships. Occasionally, a biography is made into another form of art such as a film or dramatic production. The musical production of “Hamilton” is an excellent example of a biographical work that has been turned into one of the most popular musical productions in Broadway history.

Common Examples of Biographical Subjects

Most people assume that the subject of a biography must be a person who is famous in some way. However, that’s not always the case. In general, biographical subjects tend to be interesting people who have pioneered something in their field of expertise or done something extraordinary for humanity. In addition, biographical subjects can be people who have experienced something unusual or heartbreaking, committed terrible acts, or who are especially gifted and/or talented.

As a literary device, biography is important because it allows readers to learn about someone’s story and history. This can be enlightening, inspiring, and meaningful in creating connections. Here are some common examples of biographical subjects:

  • political leaders
  • entrepreneurs
  • historical figures
  • serial killers
  • notorious people
  • political activists
  • adventurers/explorers
  • religious leaders
  • military leaders
  • cultural figures

Famous Examples of Biographical Works

The readership for biography tends to be those who enjoy learning about a certain person’s life or overall field related to the person. In addition, some readers enjoy the literary form of biography independent of the subject. Some biographical works become well-known due to either the person’s story or the way the work is written, gaining a readership of people who may not otherwise choose to read biography or are unfamiliar with its form.

Here are some famous examples of biographical works that are familiar to many readers outside of biography fans:

  • Alexander Hamilton (Ron Chernow)
  • Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder (Caroline Fraser)
  • Steve Jobs (Walter Isaacson)
  • Churchill: A Life (Martin Gilbert)
  • The Professor and the Madman: A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary (Simon Winchester)
  • A Beautiful Mind (Sylvia Nasar)
  • The Black Rose (Tananarive Due)
  • John Adams (David McCullough)
  • Into the Wild ( Jon Krakauer )
  • John Brown (W.E.B. Du Bois)
  • Frida: A Biography of Frida Kahlo (Hayden Herrera)
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (Rebecca Skloot)
  • Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln (Doris Kearns Goodwin)
  • Shirley Jackson : A Rather Haunted Life ( Ruth Franklin)
  • the stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit (Michael Finkel)

Difference Between Biography, Autobiography, and Memoir

Biography, autobiography , and memoir are the three main forms used to tell the story of a person’s life. Though there are similarities between these forms, they have distinct differences in terms of the writing, style , and purpose.

A biography is an informational narrative and account of the life history of an individual person, written by someone who is not the subject of the biography. An autobiography is the story of an individual’s life, written by that individual. In general, an autobiography is presented chronologically with a focus on key events in the person’s life. Since the writer is the subject of an autobiography, it’s written in the first person and considered more subjective than objective, like a biography. In addition, autobiographies are often written late in the person’s life to present their life experiences, challenges, achievements, viewpoints, etc., across time.

Memoir refers to a written collection of a person’s significant memories, written by that person. Memoir doesn’t generally include biographical information or chronological events unless it’s relevant to the story being presented. The purpose of memoir is reflection and an intention to share a meaningful story as a means of creating an emotional connection with the reader. Memoirs are often presented in a narrative style that is both entertaining and thought-provoking.

Examples of Biography in Literature

An important subset of biography is literary biography. A literary biography applies biographical study and form to the lives of artists and writers. This poses some complications for writers of literary biographies in that they must balance the representation of the biographical subject, the artist or writer, as well as aspects of the subject’s literary works. This balance can be difficult to achieve in terms of judicious interpretation of biographical elements within an author’s literary work and consideration of the separate spheres of the artist and their art.

Literary biographies of artists and writers are among some of the most interesting biographical works. These biographies can also be very influential for readers, not only in terms of understanding the artist or writer’s personal story but the context of their work or literature as well. Here are some examples of well-known literary biographies:

Example 1:  Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay  (Nancy Milford)

One of the first things Vincent explained to Norma was that there was a certain freedom of language in the Village that mustn’t shock her. It wasn’t vulgar. ‘So we sat darning socks on Waverly Place and practiced the use of profanity as we stitched. Needle in, . Needle out, piss. Needle in, . Needle out, c. Until we were easy with the words.’

This passage reflects the way in which Milford is able to characterize St. Vincent Millay as a person interacting with her sister. Even avid readers of a writer’s work are often unaware of the artist’s private and personal natures, separate from their literature and art. Milford reflects the balance required on the part of a literary biographer of telling the writer’s life story without undermining or interfering with the meaning and understanding of the literature produced by the writer. Though biographical information can provide some influence and context for a writer’s literary subjects, style, and choices , there is a distinction between the fictional world created by a writer and the writer’s “real” world. However, a literary biographer can illuminate the writer’s story so that the reader of both the biography and the biographical subject’s literature finds greater meaning and significance.

Example 2:  The Invisible Woman: The Story of Nelly Ternan and Charles Dickens  (Claire Tomalin)

The season of domestic goodwill and festivity must have posed a problem to all good Victorian family men with more than one family to take care of, particularly when there were two lots of children to receive the demonstrations of paternal love.

Tomalin’s literary biography of Charles Dickens reveals the writer’s extramarital relationship with a woman named Nelly Ternan. Tomalin presents the complications that resulted for Dickens from this relationship in terms of his personal and family life as well as his professional writing and literary work. Revealing information such as an extramarital relationship can influence the way a reader may feel about the subject as a person, and in the case of literary biography it can influence the way readers feel about the subject’s literature as well. Artists and writers who are beloved , such as Charles Dickens, are often idealized by their devoted readers and society itself. However, as Tomalin’s biography of Dickens indicates, artists and writers are complicated and as subject to human failings as anyone else.

Example 3:  Virginia Woolf  (Hermione Lee)

‘A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living’: so too with the biography of that self. And just as lives don’t stay still, so life-writing can’t be fixed and finalised. Our ideas are shifting about what can be said, our knowledge of human character is changing. The biographer has to pioneer, going ‘ahead of the rest of us, like the miner’s canary, testing the atmosphere , detecting falsity, unreality, and the presence of obsolete conventions’. So, ‘There are some stories which have to be retold by each generation’. She is talking about the story of Shelley, but she could be talking about her own life-story.

In this passage, Lee is able to demonstrate what her biographical subject, Virginia Woolf, felt about biography and a person telling their own or another person’s story. Literary biographies of well-known writers can be especially difficult to navigate in that both the author and biographical subject are writers, but completely separate and different people. As referenced in this passage by Lee, Woolf was aware of the subtleties and fluidity present in a person’s life which can be difficult to judiciously and effectively relay to a reader on the part of a biographer. In addition, Woolf offers insight into the fact that biographers must make choices in terms of what information is presented to the reader and the context in which it is offered, making them a “miner’s canary” as to how history will view and remember the biographical subject.

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The First 4 Steps to Writing Your Life Story

There are dozens of reasons to start writing your biography. You might wish to share your experiences with friends and family, publish a memoir for the general public to read, or preserve the heritage of your family for future generations. You might even find the process therapeutic! Your life story is unique, and there are plenty of reasons to want to record it in writing. But… how do you go about actually doing that?

When you first think about writing your life story, it can feel like a daunting job. How will you turn a life full of thoughts, memories, connections, and events into a paper and ink book? Here’s a simple, four-step approach that should help get you started on the road to a personal biography that you can be proud of…

1. Decide to write your life story

When setting out on any big project, it’s easy to let doubts get in the way. In the case of writing your biography, for example, you might find yourself wondering if it’s really worthwhile. After all, aren’t memoirs really only for celebrities? Who will want to read the story of your life?

These worries are understandable, but shouldn’t hold you back. Your story is certainly worth telling ! After all, many of the most fascinating stories are found in the most unassuming places. As for who will read your story… you might be surprised at just how interesting and important your memories are to your children, grandchildren, friends, and family.

And, for that matter, you might also be surprised by just how important writing your biography is to you .

The first step to getting your biography written is to conquer your doubts, decide that you will write your biography, and start taking action. Need a little more inspiration to do just that? Take a look at our blog post Four Inspirational Reasons to Write Your Biography .

2. Gather information

A memoir is a true life story. It’s told from your perspective, and composed from your memories, thoughts, opinions, and feelings. That’s not to say, however, that it can’t be bolstered with information from other sources. These can be anything from photographs, diaries and journals, to conversations with the people closest to your life.

Your friends and family are a good place to start. Tell them that you’re writing your biography, and ask them about key life events. You may be stunned by the insight which they have into your life, and which events they remember even more clearly than you do. Better yet, some of your relations might be able to provide you with diaries, photo albums, or other materials to jog your memory.

3. Plan your story

There’s more than one way to tell your story. A good biography isn’t just a list of memories from your oldest to your most recent. Instead, your memoirs should be selective, focusing on a theme that runs throughout your life, or picking a number of notable anecdotes to build your story around.

Of course, it’s up to you to decide what that theme or those anecdotes will be! Should you focus on your friends and family? The things you’ve achieved? Places you’ve been and people you’ve met? Trying to cram everything in is a recipe for disaster, so focus on getting what matters the most to you down on paper.

It can be helpful to make a list of all the anecdotes and points of interest that you’d like to include. Once you have them all in front of you, you can begin to shuffle, edit, and prioritise. You might end up picking one incident (such as a trip to a single country) to represent a whole swathe of time in your life (such as a round-the-world trip).

Once you’ve decided to write your life story, gathered information about your history, and made a plan, there’s only one thing left to do: write! Whether you’re a seasoned scribbler or you’ve never put pen to paper before, there are a few things to keep in mind as you finally start writing your biography.

Writing a book is a big job, so don’t rush it! Do try to be consistent, though. It’s a good idea to work on writing your biography a little each day. By making it a regular habit like this you’ll keep your biography fresh in your mind, and start to build up your word count faster than you might think.

Don’t be afraid to rewrite! Your story doesn’t have to be perfect the first time around, so don’t let worries about whether the finished thing will be any good stop you from writing it in the first place. It’s much easier to edit something that’s been written than to write fresh, so focus on putting your thoughts on paper, and worry about tidying up your work later on!

And when it does come to editing and polishing your work, your friends and family are once again extremely valuable. Consider asking someone who knows you well to read your draft and tell you what they think. As well as picking out typos and stray commas, they might also be able to tell you what memories need more detail, or what anecdotes they'd like to hear more of.

Of course, not everyone enjoys writing. If you find it difficult to get your memories in order, you might want to consider working with StoryTerrace . Our experienced ghost writers and editorial team can handle the planning, writing, and printing of your biography for you from start to finish.

Final Thoughts…

Congratulations! You’re well on your way to having written your life story. But the journey doesn’t end once your manuscript is complete. As you approach that final chapter, it’s time to start thinking about what you want to do when your masterpiece is complete.

Will you offer a copy to a local bookshop? Give out copies to your friends and family? Keep a volume safe for children, grandchildren, and future generations? Share your biography with colleagues and other people in your field? It’s your life story, so it’s up to you what you do next.

Are you ready to take that first step? Want to learn more about writing your biography? Story Terrace are here to help. Get in touch for a free consultation, or sign up for our newsletter for more inspiring stories and useful advice.

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How to Write About Your Own Life

Last Updated: February 6, 2024 Approved

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 12 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. wikiHow marks an article as reader-approved once it receives enough positive feedback. In this case, several readers have written to tell us that this article was helpful to them, earning it our reader-approved status. This article has been viewed 162,229 times.

People choose to write about their lives for a variety of reasons, including a desire to leave a memoir for their children and future generations, to create a record for themselves so they can be reminded of their youthful adventures when they're old and forgetful, and to offer something of value to the rest of the world. Writing a memoir is a very personal experience, but if you're willing to share your life story, it can be incredibly rewarding.

Preparing to Write

Step 1 Understand the memoir genre.

  • Most memoirists struggle to begin their life story and are not sure where to start. Depending on your life story, you may reach out to other family members for details on a childhood memory or event. But it’s important that you also focus on your personal experiences and your recollection of a childhood memory or moment, even if it may be flawed. Often, the best memoirs are about the process of remembering an event, or are about processing a moment in the past that felt important.

Step 2 Read examples of memoir.

  • Speak, Memory by Vladimir Nabokov. Nabokov is a highly regarded fiction writer, but one of his most celebrated works is his memoir of his childhood in Russia. The book is a good example of using literary prose and masterful storytelling to share a personal history.
  • The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. Didion’s memoir focuses on the sudden death of her husband and the death of her adult daughter a few months later. This is a great example of using memory to inform the present, which for Didion, is colored by extreme grief and a sense of mortality.
  • Maus by Art Spiegelman. This is a graphic novel that uses animals to tell Spiegelman’s father memories of being imprisoned in a concentration camp during the Holocaust. Spiegelman’s use of animals in fact makes the memoir feel that much more universal and relatable.
  • The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. Kingston’s memoir of growing up as a Chinese immigrant in California combines myth, legend, and memory. Another good example of using different writing styles or approaches to write about your own life.

Step 3 Analyze the examples.

  • Why did the author choose to highlight certain events in their life in the memoir? Consider why the memoirist chose a certain section of their childhood or a specific life event as the focus of the book. For example, Didion’s book The Year of Magical Thinking focuses on the recent deaths of her husband and her daughter, while Nabokov’s Speak, Memory focuses on his childhood in Russia. One event is in the recent past while one event is in the very distant past. Yet both events have a very strong, and possibly traumatic, effect on the writers.
  • What were the narrator’s desires in the memoir? What was motivating the narrator to share this particular story with the reader? Often, memoirs can be cathartic for the writer. Perhaps the writer was trying to process a year of grieving and loss, as Didion does in The Year of Magical Thinking , or perhaps the writer was trying to describe a childhood in a concentration camp, as Spiegelman does in his memoir Maus . Consider the motivations of the writer for putting down their story and presenting it to readers.
  • How did the memoir keep the reader engaged and interested in the story? The best memoirs are honest and unflinching, with details or admissions that the writer may be afraid to make. The writer may write in a way that feels truthful, full of moments that may not make the writer look good or conflicted. But readers often respond to vulnerability in a memoir, and a writer who is not afraid to describe their failures along with their successes.
  • Were you satisfied with the ending of the memoir? Why or why not? Unlike an autobiography, a memoir does not need to have a linear beginning, middle, and end. Most memoirs end without any firm conclusions or end of life moments. Instead, memoirs may end with thoughts on a running theme throughout the book, or with reflections on the pivotal event or moment in the writer’s life.

Structuring Your Story

Step 1 Identify your narrator’s desire line.

  • Try to sum up what your narrator wants in one sentence. For example: I wanted to understand my mother’s decision to move our family to America. Or, I wanted to become healthier after a brief brush with death. Or, I wanted to explore my experiences as an air force pilot in World War II.
  • Be specific in your desire line and avoid vague statements. Your desire line may change as you write your memoir. But its good to have a clear desire in mind before you start writing.

Step 2 Determine the key actions and obstacles in your story.

  • Try to write your actions and obstacles in short sentences: To get my desire line, I did this action. But then an obstacle got in my way. So, I did this action to overcome this obstacle.
  • For example: To understand why my mother moved my family to the United States, I tried to track down my mother’s family in Poland. But then I couldn’t locate my mother’s family due to poor records and missing relatives. So I went on a trip to Poland to better understand my mother and her family.

Step 3 Outline the inciting incident and the ending incident.

  • The inciting incident is the pivotal moment in your story, where you realized your desire line. It could be a seemingly small moment, such as a brief fight with your mother, that becomes a major moment or inciting incident in your story. For example, your brief fight with your mother could be the last time you speak to her before she passes away and leaves you letters about her life in Poland. Think of the ah ha moment in your story when you realized what you wanted in your life, or where you realized you were wrong about your assumptions about a specific moment or event.
  • The ending incident is the moment when you achieve your desire line or want. It will also help you develop an ending for your book. It could be when you discover your mother’s reason for leaving her homeland, for example.

Step 4 Create a plot outline.

  • A story goal: The plot of any story is a sequence of events that revolve around an attempt to solve a problem or attain a goal. The story goal is what your narrator wants to achieve or the problem she wants to resolve, or her desire line.
  • The consequence(s): Ask yourself, What disaster will happen if the goal is not achieved? What is my protagonist afraid will happen if she doesn’t achieve the goal or solve the problem? The consequence is the negative situation or event that will result if the goal is not achieved. The combination of goal and consequence creates the main dramatic tension in your plot. It’s what makes the plot meaningful.
  • The requirements: These are what must be accomplished to achieve the goal. Think of it as a checklist of one or more events. As the requirements are met in the course of the novel, the reader will feel the narrator is getting closer to attaining the goal. Requirements create a sense of anticipation in the reader’s mind, as he looks forward to the narrator’s success.

Step 5 Conduct basic research.

  • You can conduct online research and use libraries, archives and record offices, newspapers, and microfilm. [7] X Research source
  • You may also interview “witnesses to events”. This means individuals who can share first person accounts of an event. You will then need to follow up on leads, interview people, transcribe interviews, and read a lot of material. [8] X Research source

Writing the Story

Step 1 Make a writing schedule.

  • Try to organize your schedule around word count or page count. So, if you normally write about 750 words an hour, factor this in on your schedule. Or if you feel you may actually write two pages an hour, use this as an estimate in your schedule.
  • Determine how long it will take you on average to compose a set number of words, or number of pages, per a day. If you are working towards a final word count goal, like 50,000 words or 200 pages, focus on how many hours per a week it will take you to reach this goal. [10] X Research source

Step 2 Write a rough first draft.

  • Use your plot outline to get a general sense of where your writing might be heading. But let yourself explore scenes in your rough draft. Don’t worry about writing perfect sentences or scenes. Instead, use your memory to create moments that feel true to you.

Step 3 Avoid the passive voice.

  • Use your grammar check (or an app like Hemingway app [12] X Research source ) to count the number of passive sentences in your manuscript. Aim for 2-4% maximum.

Step 4 Stick to informal language, unless it’s absolutely necessary to use formal terms.

  • It may help to identify the reading level of the ideal reader of your book. You can determine the reading level based on the grade level of your ideal reader. If you account for ESL readers, you should aim for a grade 6 or 7 reading level. If you are writing for a higher education audience, you may write at a grade 8 or 9 level. You can use the Hemingway app to determine the reading level of your draft, or other online reading level tools. [13] X Research source

Step 5 Show, don't tell.

  • Don't try to impress your listeners or put on a "reading voice". Just read a natural, slow way. Ask for a reaction from your listeners after you finish reading. Note if there were sections that felt confusing or unclear to your listeners.

Step 7 Revise the manuscript.

  • Don't be afraid to cut at least 20% of the material. You can likely get rid of certain sections that go on for a bit too long and cause the reader to tune out. Don't be shy about cutting chapter sections or pages that may be deadweight.
  • Note if each scene in your book uses the power of the senses. Are you engaging at least one of the reader's senses in each scene? The power of enhancement through the senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, and hearing) is a trick both nonfiction and fiction writers can use to keep the reader interested.
  • Check the timeline of the book. Did you follow your desire line all the way through to the end of your book? Does the ending of your book leave the reader with a sense of closure or achievement?
  • The sentence level. Check for the transitions between paragraphs, are they smooth or jumpy? Look for any overused adverbs or terms and replace them so the sentences don't start to feel redundant.

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About This Article

Stephanie Wong Ken, MFA

To write a captivating story about your own life, read autobiographies and memoirs to help you understand how to structure your own story. When you’re ready to start writing, think about the major goals and motivations that define your life story, such as your desire to connect with your family or your goal of becoming a great writer. From there, consider some of the key events of your life and some of the obstacles you’ve faced. You can use these building blocks to start outlining your plot. Scroll down for more tips from our Writing co-author, including how to draft and polish up your manuscript! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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How to Write a Biography (Examples & Templates)

A biography is a written account of a person’s life that details their life in chronological order. Another person usually writes this detailed account, and it contains reports of their childhood, career, major life events, relationships, and social impact. It also details their relationships with their family, children, and life accomplishments.

The best way to find out more about a popular figure is through reading their biographies, so you need to make sure you get the correct information. Before writing a biography, you need to do a lot of research and interviews to represent a person’s life accurately.

Types of Biography

A biography is the story of someone’s life as written by another writer. Most biographies of popular figures are written years, or even decades, after their deaths. Authors write biographies of popular figures due to either a lack of information on the subject or personal interest.

A biography aims to share a person’s story or highlight a part of their life.

There are different types of biographies, depending on the story. Some biographies are written true to the story, while some are written as fictional works. Biographies can give you true understanding of a person on an internal as well as external level along with a lot of life lessons.


An autobiography is different from a biography because it is written by the subject of the story, themselves. The author writes in the first-person narrative, and it flows step-by-step like a story of their life. Autobiographies contain personal accounts of the subject’s life, along with their perspectives and opinions on events in their life.

How To Write a Biography

Pick a subject.

Picking a subject is the first step in writing a biography. You can pick an already famous person or a relatively unknown person with a great life story. If you already have a few in mind, you can start by asking yourself some questions such as;

  • What has the subject accomplished that makes them a good subject?
  • Have they had an impact on society?
  • Is the subject a celebrity or a well-known personality?
  • Will the biography appeal to a wide audience?

Get Permission

When you pick a subject, the next thing to do is to get permission from them or their family or rights owners. Although, with some historical figures, there may not be any need for permission. Getting permission from your subject makes it easier for you to get stories to put into your book. You can get the chance to obtain additional personal stories and anecdotes that will make your book more interesting by doing so as well.

Do The Research

Research is the most important part of a biography’s process as the entire content of the book is dependent on it. Irrespective of what you know about the subject, you need to carry out as much research as possible to get the story’s facts precisely.

Biography research comes from various sources, depending on the book’s subject. Firsthand reports from family, friends, or personal accounts from the subjects are primary sources. They are usually the most accurate and reliable, and they are crucial for a biography. Secondary sources come from other sources like magazines or documentaries.

Pick a Format

Biographies come in various formats, with each of them having their pros and cons. A typical biography will start at the beginning, usually with the birth and childhood of the subject. Yet, if the biography’s theme involves a different event in their life, the author may want to explore the flashback option or one with concurrent events from different times.

Usually, biographies have a theme or a general life lesson at the center. The author’s role is to tell the subject’s story leading up to the major event.

Which-ever format you choose should place the theme at the center, with the other events detailing the journey.

Create a Timeline Of The Story

Since a biography takes place in chronological order, there needs to be a timeline of the events in the right order. The timeline should contain the key events in the subject’s life, in the order the author plans on revealing them. A great way to declutter the story and keep it interesting is to use flashbacks . This way, the author can introduce past events and explain later events excluding the element of monotony.

Add In Your Thoughts

The good thing about biographies is that you don’t have to stick to the hard facts only. As the author, you can share your opinions and emotions in writing. The author has the freedom to do this by commenting on a significant action by the subject in a manner that describes why they feel the subject may have done what they did.

The author can also include commentary on events depicted in the biography – how it was influenced society or its impact on the lives around them. Recounting these events through a different perspective can make the biography more relatable and interesting to read.


Why is a biography template important.

A biography template has an outline that makes the writing easier for the author. Biography templates usually contain a sample timeline, format, and questions that provide more information about the subject. With a great biography template, you can cut your writing time in half and spend less time coming up with an outline.

How are biographies better in comparison to autobiographies

Since a different person writes biographies, they tend to be more objective and somewhat accurate than autobiographies. An autobiography tells things from the author’s perspective, so their views and perspective cloud it. Thus, a biography will likely tell a more factual story.

These are the important steps you need to take to help you write a great biography. Now, to make things easier for you, we have a free customizable autobiography and biography template that you can use to start your first book. Get the template and start writing today

What are some of the most important elements to keep in consideration while writing a biography?

Any author looking to write a biography must consider the factors below. They aren’t the only important factors, but a biography isn’t complete without them. • Date and place of their birth • Academic background • Professional expertise • Death, if deceased • Facts and anecdotes about the person • Main accomplishments • Detailed accounts of their child and adult life

Biographies tell the untold stories of some incredibly relevant people in the world. But biographies are not always strictly accurate. So, every biographer needs to follow the necessary steps to provide a biography with all the requirements.

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How to Write + Publish Your Life Story: Step-By-Step

Updated 06/3/2022

Published 05/15/2020

Sarah Kessler

Sarah Kessler

Contributing writer, editor

Discover how you can write and publish your life story, including step-by-step instructions and tips.

Cake values integrity and transparency. We follow a strict editorial process to provide you with the best content possible. We also may earn commission from purchases made through affiliate links. As an Amazon Associate, we earn from qualifying purchases. Learn more in our affiliate disclosure .

Have you always wanted to tell or write your life story, but you’re not sure how to start? If so, you’re not alone. Many people want to share the story of their lives, but they get stuck. Whether it’s in the writing or the publishing, there might be something holding you back from writing the memoir you’re dreaming of. 

Jump ahead to these sections: 

8 steps for writing your life story, how you can publish and share your life story.

If you want to write your life story, either to have for yourself or to publish as a book, here are some steps to help you through the process.  

And if you're interested in unique ways to continue the legacy of a loved one who passed away, you can consider a custom urn from a store like Foreverence  or even have a memorial diamond made from ashes with a company like  Eterneva .

Telling the story of your own life should be pretty easy, right? After all, you were there and experienced everything personally. 

Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. In fact, writing your own life story is often more difficult than penning a work of fiction. We experience so much in life that it’s hard to know what to include or leave out. And with personal emotions attached to each life event, getting through some chapters can bring up unpleasant memories.  

Below are the steps for writing your life story if you’re not sure how to begin or where to go next. 

Step 1: Choose a theme

First, decide whether your life story is just for yourself and your family, or whether you’ll share it with others. Many people write memoirs so that their families can remember them when they’re gone. Others write memoirs as first-hand accounts of historical events. 

If you choose the former, you’ll likely include life events and stories that are most meaningful to you. If you choose the latter, you’ll want to focus more on stories that relate to the event you’re recounting. The “theme” of your life story and your reason for writing it are important to decide early on. 

Step 2: Make a family tree

If more than just a few family members show up in your life story, it can help to create a family tree . You might do so just for yourself, for reference, or you might make a more polished version to include with the family story. 

Including a family tree at the beginning of your memoir will help readers, including other family members, follow along. It’s also a nice touch if you’re creating your memoir as a family legacy project . 

Step 3: Brainstorm key life events

Following the “theme” you chose, consider what life events and moments you want to include in your life story. If you’re creating an autobiography to recount your life to children and grandchildren, you can just go chronologically. Begin with key events from your childhood, then your teenage years, young adulthood, and adulthood.

Here are some other important events you can include: 

  • Getting into trouble with friends at school. 
  • Going to college. 
  • Your first job. 
  • Meeting your husband, wife, or partner. 
  • Fun and unique family traditions . 
  • Having your first child and any children after that. 
  • Traveling and experiencing different cultures. 
  • Losing someone you loved. 
  • Moving somewhere new or buying a house. 
  • Experiencing major world events (a war, an assassination, a pandemic, etc.)

Step 4: Journal about potentially painful events

Painful life events, like losing someone close to you, can be hard to write about. But that doesn’t mean you should leave them out of your life story. In fact, they’re often some of the most pivotal events in our lives. 

If something from your brainstorming session strikes an emotional chord, take some time to journal about that event. Just let yourself write without holding anything back. This is a good way to free up memories you might not have thought about in a while, and it’s also a helpful method for coping with grief from your past. 

Step 5: Jot out a rough draft

Next, go through the items on your brainstorming list, one by one, and write a rough draft for each event. If you think of something that applies more to a different item than the one you’re writing about, just make a note on your brainstorm list and move on with your current topic. 

Don’t worry about the final version of your life story during this step. You’ll end up with a lot of writing that you don’t include in the final edition, and you’ll end up adding more in as you go. Try to write as freely as possible without editing yourself along the way at this stage. 

Step 6: Record conversations with friends and family

Writing your life story can feel unnatural. But talking to friends and family about your life is something you probably do all the time. If you find yourself facing writer’s block, visit a friend or family member, and turn on your phone’s voice recorder. Have your loved one ask questions about the events on your list, and just talk as naturally as possible. 

Then, you can transcribe the sessions yourself or consider hiring a transcription service to do it for you. 

Step 7: Hire a freelancer

In addition to a transcriber, you might benefit from the help of someone who writes for a living. A writer can help put your ideas into words, and a professional editor can help you decide on a theme, as well as organize your autobiography. 

If you want to find a freelance writer or editor, consider these services:

Hiring a freelancer can be hit-or-miss, so make sure you conduct thorough interviews with each potential candidate. Find a writer who you relate to personally and don’t mind spending a lot of time talking to. 

After all, the writer or editor you choose will need to get to know you fairly well in order to convey your life story well.

Step 8: Or hire a professional service

If working with a freelancer doesn’t appeal to you, you might prefer to work with a company that specializes in life stories and memoirs. Some of these services, however, can cost upwards of $25,000 to publish a memoir start-to-finish. The cost includes travel for a writer to come out to you and interview you. 

Here are some of the more popular life story-writing-and-publishing services:

  • Real Life Stories
  • Heritage Memoirs
  • Modern Memoirs, Inc.

Working with one of the all-inclusive services listed above might cost more, but it often includes writing, editing, and publishing all in one. 

Step 9: Collect relevant photos

A life story is even more interesting if it includes photos related to the stories inside. Go through the photographs you have in storage, both physical and digital. Create stacks of photos (or folders on your computer) by year that the photos were captured. This will make life easier for you when you’re trying to locate a picture related to a certain story in your memoir. 

If you want to include any of your physical photos that you don’t have stored digitally, too, you’ll need to scan them. You can do so at home if you have a scanner, or you can take your photos to a printing service. 

Step 10: Edit your manuscript

Whether you write your life story completely on your own or hire outside help, you should be hands-on in the editing process. You’ll need to read through the entire memoir, making notes along the way. If you’re working with a professional writer or team, send your notes to them to make changes. 

When you’re editing, imagine you’re reading your life story as someone who doesn’t know you. 

Make sure your story is understandable, easy to follow, and conveys the message you decided on. If you include multiple family members in your life story, make sure it’s easy to understand who those family members are, and their relationship to you. 

After you’re done writing your life story, you’ll want to publish it. Publishing a book doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll sell it to people you don’t know. 

Having your autobiography published could mean simply making it more presentable and creating a few copies for family and friends. 

Here are some of your options when you’re ready to publish your life story. 

Leave it to the professionals

If you chose to hire professionals in the writing and editing of your life story, they might also offer publishing options. This is usually true of all-inclusive memoir and life story services like those listed above. 

If you hired a freelance writer, you could hire the help of a graphic designer to help design the cover of your life story, and an editor who’s familiar with publishing to help with the rest. 

Self-publish a physical book

To self-publish a hard-copy book, you’ll need to decide how you want the book to look, first. You’ll need to master typesetting and design a cover. 

Then, you can choose a print-on-demand or offset-printing service like one of those listed below to self-publish your book: 

  • IngramSpark

Create an e-book

You can also create an online version of your book, instead of a paper copy. You can do so using one of the services listed above, which also offer e-book services. Or you can design your book yourself. 

If you choose to DIY it, take your manuscript and log into one of the sites below to design a book: 

  • Bookwright (from Blurb)
  • Flipbuilder

Send your book to family and friends

If you create a physical book, it’s a good idea to order at least ten copies right away. That gives you the freedom to give your memoir as a gift for Christmas or keep it on hand to give out whenever you want. 

When you give your life story to a family member or close friend, make sure to include a personal inscription inside the cover. Write a message to your loved one explaining why you wanted them to have a copy of your personal story, or let them know what they mean to you. 

If you give your life story to someone who makes an appearance in the book, mark the pages where they appear with sticky-notes. 

Why Write a Life Story? 

You don’t have to be the most interesting person in the world to write your life story. Almost everyone can benefit from writing about their own life, and your family will enjoy learning more about your past. 

Creating a memoir gives future generations the opportunity to connect with a beloved family member. And if your life story relates to key world events, even more people might be interested in learning about what your life was like. 

No matter what your reason for writing a life story, doing so can be emotionally taxing. But when you’re done, you’ll have a physical account of everything you’ve experienced to share with the world.


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How to Write a Biography

written biography story

Biographies are big business. Whether in book form or Hollywood biopics, the lives of the famous and sometimes not-so-famous fascinate us.

While it’s true that most biographies are about people who are in the public eye, sometimes the subject is less well-known. Mostly though, famous or not, the person who is written about has led a life that is in some way incredible.

While your students will most likely have a basic understanding of a biography, it’s worth taking a little time before they put pen to paper to tease out a crystal clear definition of a biography.

Visual Writing Prompts

What Is a Biography?

how to write a biography | how to start an autobiography | How to Write a Biography |

Simply put, a biography is an account of someone’s life written by someone else . While there is a genre known as a fictional biography, for the most part, biographies are, by definition, nonfiction.

Generally speaking, biographies provide an account of the subject’s life from the earliest days of their childhood right up to the present day or their death if the subject is deceased.

The job of a biography is more than just to outline the bare facts of a person’s life.

Rather than just listing the basic details of their upbringing, hobbies, education, work, relationships, and death, a well-written biography should also paint a picture of the subject’s personality, and as well as their experience of life.


how to write a biography | biography and autobiography writing unit 1 | How to Write a Biography |


  • Understand the purpose of both forms of biography.
  • Explore the language and perspective of both.
  • Prompts and Challenges to engage students in writing a biography.
  • Dedicated lessons for both forms of biography.
  • Biographical Projects can expand students’ understanding of reading and writing a biography.

What Are the Main Features of a Biography?

Before students begin writing a biography, they’ll need to have a firm grasp of the main features of the genre. A good way to determine how well they understand these essential elements of the genre is by asking them to compile a checklist.

At a minimum, their checklists should contain the items below. Be sure to help them fill in any gaps before moving on to the writing process.

The purpose of a biography is to provide an account of someone’s life.

Biography structure.

ORIENTATION (BEGINNING) Open your biography with a strong hook to grab the reader’s attention

SEQUENCING: In most cases, biographies are written in chronological order unless you are a very competent writer consciously trying to break from this trend.

COVER: childhood, upbringing, education, influences, accomplishments, relationships, etc. – everything that helps the reader to understand the person.

CONCLUSION: Wrap your biography up with some details about what the subject is doing now if they are still alive. If they have passed away, make mention of what impact they have made and what their legacy is or will be.


LANGUAGE Use descriptive and figurative language that will paint images inside your audience’s minds as they read. Use time connectives to link events.

PERSPECTIVE Biographies are written from the third person’s perspective.

DETAILS: Give specific details about people, places, events, times, dates, etc. Reflect on how events shaped the subject. You might want to include some relevant photographs with captions. A timeline may also be of use depending upon your subject and what you are trying to convey to your audience.

TENSE Written in the past tense (though ending may shift to the present/future tense)


Like any form of writing, you will find it simple if you have a plan and follow it through. These steps will ensure you cover the essential bases of writing a biography essay.

Firstly, select a subject that inspires you. Someone whose life story resonates with you and whose contribution to society intrigues you. The next step is to conduct thorough research. Engage in extensive reading, explore various sources, watch documentaries, and glean all available information to provide a comprehensive account of the person’s life.

Creating an outline is essential to organize your thoughts and information. The outline should include the person’s early life, education, career, achievements, and any other significant events or contributions. It serves as a map for the writing process, ensuring that all vital information is included.

Your biography should have an engaging introduction that captivates the reader’s attention and provides background information on the person you’re writing about. It should include a thesis statement that summarizes the main points of the biography.

Writing a biography in chronological order is crucial . You should begin with the person’s early life and move through their career and achievements. This approach provides clarity on how the person’s life unfolded and how they accomplished their goals.

A biography should be written in a narrative style , capturing the essence of the person’s life through vivid descriptions, anecdotes, and quotes. Avoid dry, factual writing and focus on creating a compelling narrative that engages the reader.

Adding personal insights and opinions can enhance the biography’s overall impact, providing a unique perspective on the person’s achievements, legacy, and impact on society.

Editing and proofreading are vital elements of the writing process. Thoroughly reviewing your biography ensures that the writing is clear, concise, and error-free. You can even request feedback from someone else to ensure that it is engaging and well-written.

Finally, including a bibliography at the end of your biography is essential. It gives credit to the sources that were used during research, such as books, articles, interviews, and websites.

Tips for Writing a Brilliant Biography

Biography writing tip #1: choose your subject wisely.

There are several points for students to reflect on when deciding on a subject for their biography. Let’s take a look at the most essential points to consider when deciding on the subject for a biography:

Interest: To produce a biography will require sustained writing from the student. That’s why students must choose their subject well. After all, a biography is an account of someone’s entire life to date. Students must ensure they choose a subject that will sustain their interest throughout the research, writing, and editing processes.

Merit: Closely related to the previous point, students must consider whether the subject merits the reader’s interest. Aside from pure labors of love, writing should be undertaken with the reader in mind. While producing a biography demands sustained writing from the author, it also demands sustained reading from the reader.

Therefore, students should ask themselves if their chosen subject has had a life worthy of the reader’s interest and the time they’d need to invest in reading their biography.

Information: Is there enough information available on the subject to fuel the writing of an entire biography? While it might be a tempting idea to write about a great-great-grandfather’s experience in the war. There would be enough interest there to sustain the author’s and the reader’s interest, but do you have enough access to information about their early childhood to do the subject justice in the form of a biography?

Biography Writing Tip #2: R esearch ! Research! Research!

While the chances are good that the student already knows quite a bit about the subject they’ve chosen. Chances are 100% that they’ll still need to undertake considerable research to write their biography.

As with many types of writing , research is an essential part of the planning process that shouldn’t be overlooked. If a student wishes to give as complete an account of their subject’s life as possible, they’ll need to put in the time at the research stage.

An effective way to approach the research process is to:

1. Compile a chronological timeline of the central facts, dates, and events of the subject’s life

2. Compile detailed descriptions of the following personal traits:

  •      Physical looks
  •      Character traits
  •      Values and beliefs

3. Compile some research questions based on different topics to provide a focus for the research:

  • Childhood : Where and when were they born? Who were their parents? Who were the other family members? What education did they receive?
  • Obstacles: What challenges did they have to overcome? How did these challenges shape them as individuals?
  • Legacy: What impact did this person have on the world and/or the people around them?
  • Dialogue & Quotes: Dialogue and quotations by and about the subject are a great way to bring color and life to a biography. Students should keep an eagle eye out for the gems that hide amid their sources.

As the student gets deeper into their research, new questions will arise that can further fuel the research process and help to shape the direction the biography will ultimately go in.

Likewise, during the research, themes will often begin to suggest themselves. Exploring these themes is essential to bring depth to biography, but we’ll discuss this later in this article.

Research Skills:

Researching for biography writing is an excellent way for students to hone their research skills in general. Developing good research skills is essential for future academic success. Students will have opportunities to learn how to:

  • Gather relevant information
  • Evaluate different information sources
  • Select suitable information
  • Organize information into a text.

Students will have access to print and online information sources, and, in some cases, they may also have access to people who knew or know the subject (e.g. biography of a family member).

These days, much of the research will likely take place online. It’s crucial, therefore, to provide your students with guidance on how to use the internet safely and evaluate online sources for reliability. This is the era of ‘ fake news ’ and misinformation after all!


how to write a biography | research skills 1 | How to Write a Biography |


⭐How to correctly ask questions to search engines on all devices.

⭐ How to filter and refine your results to find exactly what you want every time.

⭐ Essential Research and critical thinking skills for students.

⭐ Plagiarism, Citing and acknowledging other people’s work.

⭐ How to query, synthesize and record your findings logically.

BIOGRAPHY WRITING Tip #3: Find Your Themes In Biography Writing

Though predominantly a nonfiction genre, the story still plays a significant role in good biography writing. The skills of characterization and plot structuring are transferable here. And, just like in fiction, exploring themes in a biographical work helps connect the personal to the universal. Of course, these shouldn’t be forced; this will make the work seem contrived, and the reader may lose faith in the truthfulness of the account. A biographer needs to gain and maintain the trust of the reader.

Fortunately, themes shouldn’t need to be forced. A life well-lived is full of meaning, and the themes the student writer is looking for will emerge effortlessly from the actions and events of the subject’s life. It’s just a case of learning how to spot them.

One way to identify the themes in a life is to look for recurring events or situations in a person’s life. These should be apparent from the research completed previously. The students should seek to identify these patterns that emerge in the subject’s life. For example, perhaps they’ve had to overcome various obstacles throughout different periods of their life. In that case, the theme of overcoming adversity is present and has been identified.

Usually, a biography has several themes running throughout, so be sure your students work to identify more than one theme in their subject’s life.

BIOGRAPHY WRITING Tip: #4 Put Something of Yourself into the Writing

While the defining feature of a biography is that it gives an account of a person’s life, students must understand that this is not all a biography does. Relating the facts and details of a subject’s life is not enough. The student biographer should not be afraid to share their thoughts and feelings with the reader throughout their account of their subject’s life.

The student can weave some of their personality into the fabric of the text by providing commentary and opinion as they relate the events of the person’s life and the wider social context at the time. Unlike the detached and objective approach we’d expect to find in a history textbook, in a biography, student-writers should communicate their enthusiasm for their subject in their writing.

This makes for a more intimate experience for the reader, as they get a sense of getting to know the author and the subject they are writing about.

Student Examples of Biography Writing

  • Year 5 Example
  • Year 7 Example
  • Year 9 Example

“The Rock ‘n’ Roll King: Elvis Presley”

Elvis Aaron Presley, born on January 8, 1935, was an amazing singer and actor known as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Even though he’s been dead for nearly 50 years, I can’t help but be fascinated by his incredible life!

Elvis grew up in Tupelo, Mississippi, in a tiny house with his parents and twin brother. His family didn’t have much money, but they shared a love for music. Little did they know Elvis would become a music legend!

When he was only 11 years old, Elvis got his first guitar. He taught himself to play and loved singing gospel songs. As he got older, he started combining different music styles like country, blues, and gospel to create a whole new sound – that’s Rock ‘n’ Roll!

In 1954, at the age of 19, Elvis recorded his first song, “That’s All Right.” People couldn’t believe how unique and exciting his music was. His famous hip-swinging dance moves also made him a sensation!

Elvis didn’t just rock the music scene; he also starred in movies like “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock.” But fame came with challenges. Despite facing ups and downs, Elvis kept spreading happiness through his music.

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Tragically, Elvis passed away in 1977, but his music and charisma live on. Even today, people worldwide still enjoy his songs like “Hound Dog” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Elvis Presley’s legacy as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll will live forever.

Long Live the King: I wish I’d seen him.

Elvis Presley, the Rock ‘n’ Roll legend born on January 8, 1935, is a captivating figure that even a modern-day teen like me can’t help but admire. As I delve into his life, I wish I could have experienced the magic of his live performances.

Growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis faced challenges but found solace in music. At 11, he got his first guitar, a symbol of his journey into the world of sound. His fusion of gospel, country, and blues into Rock ‘n’ Roll became a cultural phenomenon.

The thought of being in the audience during his early performances, especially when he recorded “That’s All Right” at 19, sends shivers down my spine. Imagining the crowd’s uproar and feeling the revolutionary energy of that moment is a dream I wish I could have lived.

Elvis wasn’t just a musical prodigy; he was a dynamic performer. His dance moves, the embodiment of rebellion, and his roles in films like “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock” made him a true icon.

After watching him on YouTube, I can’t help but feel a little sad that I’ll never witness the King’s live performances. The idea of swaying to “Hound Dog” or being enchanted by “Can’t Help Falling in Love” in person is a missed opportunity. Elvis may have left us in 1977, but he was the king of rock n’ roll. Long live the King!

Elvis Presley: A Teen’s Take on the Rock ‘n’ Roll Icon”

Elvis Presley, born January 8, 1935, was a revolutionary force in the music world, earning his title as the “King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.” Exploring his life, even as a 16-year-old today, I’m captivated by the impact he made.

Hailing from Tupelo, Mississippi, Elvis grew up in humble beginnings, surrounded by the love of his parents and twin brother. It’s inspiring to think that, despite financial challenges, this young man would redefine the music scene.

At 11, Elvis got his first guitar, sparking a self-taught journey into music. His early gospel influences evolved into a unique fusion of country, blues, and gospel, creating the electrifying genre of Rock ‘n’ Roll. In 1954, at only 19, he recorded “That’s All Right,” marking the birth of a musical legend.

Elvis wasn’t just a musical innovator; he was a cultural phenomenon. His rebellious dance moves and magnetic stage presence challenged the norms. He transitioned seamlessly into acting, starring in iconic films like “Love Me Tender” and “Jailhouse Rock.”

how to write a biography | Elvis Presley promoting Jailhouse Rock | How to Write a Biography |

However, fame came at a cost, and Elvis faced personal struggles. Despite the challenges, his music continued to resonate. Even now, classics like “Hound Dog” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love” transcend generations.

Elvis Presley’s impact on music and culture is undeniable. He was known for his unique voice, charismatic persona, and electrifying performances. He sold over one billion records worldwide, making him one of the best-selling solo artists in history. He received numerous awards throughout his career, including three Grammy Awards and the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

Elvis’s influence can still be seen in today’s music. Many contemporary artists, such as Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga, and Justin Timberlake, have cited Elvis as an inspiration. His music continues to be featured in movies, TV shows, and commercials.

Elvis left us in 1977, but his legacy lives on. I appreciate his breaking barriers and fearlessly embracing his artistic vision. Elvis Presley’s impact on music and culture is timeless, a testament to the enduring power of his artistry. His music has inspired generations and will continue to do so for many years to come.

how to write a biography | LITERACY IDEAS FRONT PAGE 1 | How to Write a Biography |

Teaching Resources

Use our resources and tools to improve your student’s writing skills through proven teaching strategies.


We have compiled a sequence of biography-related lessons or teaching ideas that you can follow as you please. They are straightforward enough for most students to follow without further instruction.


This session aims to give students a broader understanding of what makes a good biography.

Once your students have compiled a comprehensive checklist of the main features of a biography, allow them to use it to assess some biographies from your school library or on the internet using the feature checklist.

When students have assessed a selection of biographies, take some time as a class to discuss them. You can base the discussion around the following prompts:

  • Which biographies covered all the criteria from their checklist?
  • Which biographies didn’t?
  • Which biography was the most readable in terms of structure?
  • Which biography do you think was the least well-structured? How would you improve this?

Looking at how other writers have interpreted the form will help students internalize the necessary criteria before attempting to produce a biography. Once students have a clear understanding of the main features of the biography, they’re ready to begin work on writing a biography.

When the time does come to put pen to paper, be sure they’re armed with the following top tips to help ensure they’re as well prepared as possible.


This session aims to guide students through the process of selecting the perfect biography subject.

Instruct students to draw up a shortlist of three potential subjects for the biography they’ll write.

Using the three criteria mentioned in the writing guide (Interest, Merit, and Information), students award each potential subject a mark out of 5 for each of the criteria. In this manner, students can select the most suitable subject for their biography.


This session aims to get students into the researching phase and then prioritise events and organise them chronologically.

Students begin by making a timeline of their subject’s life, starting with their birth and ending with their death or the present day. If the student has yet to make a final decision on the subject of their biography, a family member will often serve well for this exercise as a practice exercise.

Students should research and gather the key events of the person’s life, covering each period of their life from when they were a baby, through childhood and adolescence, right up to adulthood and old age. They should then organize these onto a timeline. Students can include photographs with captions if they have them.

They can present these to the class when they have finished their timelines.


Instruct students to look over their timeline, notes, and other research. Challenge them to identify three patterns that repeat throughout the subject’s life and sort all the related events and incidents into specific categories.

Students should then label each category with a single word. This is the thematic concept or the broad general underlying idea. After that, students should write a sentence or two expressing what the subject’s life ‘says’ about that concept.

This is known as the thematic statement . With the thematic concepts and thematic statements identified, the student now has some substantial ideas to explore that will help bring more profound meaning and wider resonance to their biography.


Instruct students to write a short objective account of an event in their own life. They can write about anyone from their past. It needn’t be more than a couple of paragraphs, but the writing should be strictly factual, focusing only on the objective details of what happened.

Once they have completed this, it’s time to rewrite the paragraph, but they should include some opinion and personal commentary this time.

The student here aims to inject some color and personality into their writing, to transform a detached, factual account into a warm, engaging story.

Biography Graphic Organizer

Get our FREE Biography Writing Graphic Organizer

Use this valuable tool in the research and writing phases to keep your students on track and engaged.


writing checklists

To Conclude

By this stage, your students should have an excellent technical overview of a biography’s essential elements.

They should be able to choose their subject in light of how interesting and worthy they are, as well as give consideration to the availability of information out there. They should be able to research effectively and identify emerging themes in their research notes. And finally, they should be able to bring some of their personality and uniqueness into their retelling of the life of another.

Remember that writing a biography is not only a great way to develop a student’s writing skills; it can be used in almost all curriculum areas. For example, to find out more about a historical figure in History, to investigate scientific contributions to Science, or to celebrate a hero from everyday life.

Biography is an excellent genre for students to develop their writing skills and to find inspiration in the lives of others in the world around them.


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How to write an Autobiography

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How to Write a Historical Recount Text

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15 Awesome Recount & Personal Narrative Topics

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Personal Narrative Writing Guide

The content for this page has been written by Shane Mac Donnchaidh.  A former principal of an international school and English university lecturer with 15 years of teaching and administration experience. Shane’s latest Book, The Complete Guide to Nonfiction Writing , can be found here.  Editing and support for this article have been provided by the literacyideas team.

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 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. 


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.


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.

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BrandYourself Blog | ORM and Personal Branding

11 Tips On How To Write A Personal Biography + Examples

We’ve all been there: agonizing over how to write a bio that doesn’t sound too self-promotional or fall flat with modesty.

“What is a biography?” you may ask. A bio is a piece of work that details a person’s life. In addition to basic facts, like education and employment, it is meant to portray their lived experiences as well. 

Writing a biography that’s professional and actually  sparks interest  can be tricky. And optimizing it for greater visibility in search engines can make your job even harder.

In many cases, your personal biography will define your first impression online when you’re Googled by:

  • A potential employer or client before an interview.
  • Someone at a networking event who wants to learn more about you.
  • A potential client or customer looking to get more info before working with you.

And when someone finds your social media profiles, personal website, or company bio page, your bio will be there to greet them.

It can make or break whether someone wants to take the next step and work with you.

So it’s important to make it count.

1. How to write a bio about yourself that checks all the boxes.

When it comes to writing a personal or professional bio, there are a few items that are standard to include. While a bio may not have all of these things, if any of the following apply to you, then they should be included. Use the following bullet points to write out a list of information about you. From there, you can draw info from each line item to start crafting your bio.

  • Your current role
  • Hometown/Current place of residence
  • Work experience
  • Education history
  • Special skills & attributes
  • Professional accomplishments
  • Personal accomplishments
  • High-level personal goals & aspirations
  • High-level professional accomplishments
  • Hobbies & pastimes
  • Personal passions
  • Awards or Accolades
  • Press Mentions
  • Miscellaneous (What makes you unique!)

Starting with a list ensures you won’t leave anything out.

2. Introduce yourself… like a real person.

This is one of the most important pieces of understanding how to write a personal biography. Always start with your name.

When many people start learning how to write a bio, they skip this important part. People need to know who you are before they learn what you do. Remember that your most important details should go in the very first sentence.

Keep the first sentence short and sweet, either by describing what you do at a high level or going into more detail about your specific role. Aim to describe yourself in a way that’s professional…but also human.

3. Watch your word count.

When you start writing a bio about yourself, determining the length may seem like an afterthought – something that just happens once you stop typing. However, it is something that you need to think about before you start writing – and your ideal word count may shift depending on your primary focus.

From an SEO perspective, the more words you use in your personal bio, the better. If you are filling in the bio section of a profile, find out the word or character limit – that’s how long your bio should be. If you are writing the bio on your personal website, the longer, the better. Plan to write 500 words – minimum. If you have 1,500 to 2,000 words in you, that’s even better.

From a branding perspective, you may have a different take on the length of your bio. Perhaps you would prefer to keep things short and sweet or don’t feel the immediate need for a 1,500-word count. If so, that’s fine too. Cater your personal bio to your goals. Start small. The length suggestion can change based on your situation and ultimate goals.

4. Write your biography in the third person.

This is one of the most common steps that you may struggle with when learning how to write a bio about yourself. While it can feel strange to talk about yourself in the third person at first, there are some very clear benefits from doing so:

From an SEO perspective, writing a bio in the third person allows you to include your full name throughout the bio. This lets search engines know that this lengthy, original, and well-written piece of content is about  you . While making it clear that this awesome work is about you is important when it comes to search engine optimization, don’t let speaking in the third person become too much of a good thing.

Never overuse your name when writing a bio or include it in a way that seems unnatural. Instead, use your name when it is appropriate. By dropping your name too frequently, search engines may think that the article looks suspicious/spammy – or isn’t written very well.

5. Write a story, not a list.

When writing a personal bio, it can be easy to fall into the trap of rattling off accomplishments, but that’s what your resume is for. Your bio should go above and beyond your awards and get to the core of who you are and what you’re about.

Now, that may seem like a tall order, but with a bit of planning, you can pull it off. You can understand how to write a bio from a technical standpoint, but looking at it through this lens will help be your guideline going forward. Ask yourself questions like, “Who is your audience?” or, “What are the main takeaways for your reader?” and “What events in your life best illustrate those main points?”. Turn your biography into a story that engages the reader.

Those who have mastered the steps of how to write a bio spend a lot of time doing this. If you approach writing a bio like a story, you’re giving yourself the opportunity to differentiate yourself from others and truly connect with the reader.

6. Edit ruthlessly, analyze with free tools, and update constantly.

Your online bio is the authoritative source for you. That means that it needs to reflect you in the best light possible. This also means that it should be kept as up-to-date as possible. The proper action plan for how to write a bio is never truly finished because of this.

A lengthy, well-written, and regularly updated piece of content is like search engine gold. So when you complete your initial version of the longer personal bio that you will use on your website, know that you’re not finished.

As you gain more experience or perhaps shift your professional focus, include these changes in your bios. And keep asking other people that you trust to take a look at your main bios to edit them. Writing a bio is an ongoing process that you should never ignore for too long.

Read your bio aloud to yourself, use free editing tools like the  Hemingway app ,  Slickwrite , or any other number of free resources that will help you write a great bio about yourself that keeps readers interested.

7. Link to your work.

Regardless of your profession, it’s likely that you have samples of your work that are pertinent to the audience reading about you. In addition to being an introduction to who you are and what you do, let your personal bio act as a marketing tool. In case you need some ideas, see this  good real estate marketing teamwork  where you can draw ideas. Many people want to learn how to write a bio effectively, but they don’t spend enough time learning how to use it as a promotion.

You can do this by including links to your product, company, or service. Avoid doing this in a heavy-handed way since nobody wants to read a direct sales pitch when they’re trying to learn about a human being. Mention the product, company, or service in a way that helps you tell your own story in a natural way.

These links should enhance and illustrate what you’re already describing yourself. This shouldn’t be a distraction or take anything away from the main thrust of your personal narrative.

If you have a lot of work and accomplishments to choose from, be selective! Highlight work that’s impressive, relevant, tells your story and makes you proud.

If you don’t currently have much to link to within your personal bio, don’t worry.

Start by learning more about  personal branding . Make a note in your calendar, planner, or journal that this is something to work on outside of creating your personal bio. But don’t let this fall by the wayside. Set some time aside in the next few weeks to actively work on fixing this.

Whether it’s writing an article on your company’s website, submitting a post to a site that’s related to your industry, or finally getting your passion project’s website live… do it! And once that is live, get the most out of it by linking to it in your bios. Look to other professionals in your field who have a well-developed online presence for inspiration.

8. Don’t forget to share your contact information.

Even if you have a contact page on your site, or perhaps widgets on your website that link to your social media sites, make a point to include the most direct mode of connection at the end of your personal bio. This could be your email address, a link to your contact page, or a link to your LinkedIn account. When it comes down to it, understanding how to write a biography aids you in creating new and valuable connections.

By including this type of information at the end of your bio, you’re not only letting your audience know how you prefer that they get in touch with you but directing them to another hub that lets them learn even more information about you (if you so choose). Give some thought about what you want your audience to do after they have just been introduced to you through your personal bio.

9. Write a bio for all of your different profiles.

As you build your online presence, you will need different versions of your bio. They’ll vary in length depending on where you place them. So to start, don’t feel like you have to fit your entire life story into one bio.

It’s important to have multiple versions of your bio for two main reasons:

  • From a Search Engine Optimization (SEO) perspective, unique content helps your profiles and websites rank better in search results. Why? Because search engines like Google want to provide a broad range of information, not content that seems plagiarized (even if you just plagiarized yourself).
  • From a branding perspective, it’s helpful to have different versions of your bio at the ready for different platforms. For example, your Twitter bio will be very short due to character limitations, but your LinkedIn bio (called your summary) can be longer.

Both of these reasons fit into the bigger picture of managing your online presence. A lot goes into this process, which is why we put together this comprehensive  online reputation management guide .

10. Use an online tool to ensure the bios on all your profiles are well-branded and optimized to rank high in search engines.

Understanding how to write a bio is a lot easier when you have a little help. At BrandYourself, we’ve built  reputation management software  that walks you through building an impressive online presence.

It includes a useful personal bio analyzer that helps you ensure your bios across all profiles (LinkedIn, Twitter,, your website, etc.) are well-branded and optimized to show up as high as possible on Google. Just submit your profiles and quickly find out which bios need improvement.

If you want to analyze the bios on your own profiles,  create a free account now . Just submit your main profiles, then click “optimize” on each one to see a list of ways you can improve them – including enhancing your personal bio.

11. Get help from an expert. 

Sometimes you just need a second pair of eyes on your personal bio – or you can have a specialist write it for you. That’s part of the larger  reputation management services  we provide at BrandYourself.

If you’re interested in working with one of our in-house reputation specialists, we can help. As part of your kickoff strategy session, we’ll help define the most powerful way to talk about yourself, position yourself effectively against others in your industry, and ensure your bios are working for you across all your online profiles and websites. Our reputation specialists understand the ins and outs of how to write a bio that helps you achieve your goals, and it’s one of the first things they go over with you.

To learn more,  check out our reputation management services here . Otherwise, don’t hesitate to check out our other blog posts as you continue your journey in building your brand. And if you don’t want to miss out on similar tips and tricks in the future, just scroll up and subscribe.

Personal Biography Examples

1. noah kagan.

Read Noah’s full bio .

This is a good biography example that does a lot of the things we’ve mentioned well. Noah links to his work, writes with a friendly style, and even connects the reader with the people he works with.

The reason why we’re highlighting this bio, though, is that Noah makes it easy to get in touch with him via email. So many biography examples that you might find will include links to social media accounts only, which is fine. However, if you want to build up a fast connection with someone who just found you, email is the way to go.

Not only that, but because he wrote this bio in a fun and conversational style (the little mention about taco gift cards), it actually encourages people to reach out. Noah is great at building connections with people, and this biography example is no exception.

2. Katerina Jeng

Read Katerina’s full bio .

The biography example from Katerina Jeng illustrates how to introduce yourself like a real person while demonstrating professionalism at the same time. Katerina covers her background, useful traits, current work, and hobbies – all while keeping things light and conversational.

The balance in this bio example can be tough to replicate, but it’s worth exploring if it fits your writing style.

Going  too  casual or stuffy can leave a bad impression professionally and won’t give you the best possible opportunity to stand out. This is a good example of how to write a bio that does both.

3. Barack & Michelle Obama

Read the full bios . 

On Barack and Michelle Obama’s page, you can find textbook biography examples that show you how to write your bio in the third person without making it awkward to read. So many people struggle with this, so hopefully, these bio examples will make things easier by seeing it in action.

Both of these bios do a great job of not going overboard and varying the kind of third-person mentions you can include. This makes your biography more natural to read while still ensuring that it has the best chance of being seen when someone looks you up.

4. Darren Rowse

Read Darren’s full bio .

Using ProBlogger as a biography example for our tips is a perfect fit. When you check out the page, you’ll see that Darren wrote this bio to be comprehensive but also lead viewers right into his offerings (very smart).

He is mindful of his word count and makes sure to expand a bit more after he’s done talking about his background by continuing into what he’s working on now. This biography is a perfect example of how not being too brief can help the bio you wrote rank well in search engines while also catching the reader up if it’s their first time hearing of you.

5. Tim Ferriss

Read Tim’s full bio .

Tim is a master at promoting his work, and when he wrote his bio, he took full advantage of the opportunity.

Throughout Tim’s bio, he seamlessly links to his work, credentials, social media accounts, and books he’s written. If you had never heard of him before, he makes it quite easy to get up to speed and find out about his work.

One thing we like about this biography example is that he alternates between lists and paragraphs to help break things up. So many times, people write their bio as an extremely dense and text-heavy monster that ultimately never gets read fully. If you give the reader a break (especially in this age of skimming), more will be consumed in the long run.

6. Pete Kistler

Read Pete’s full bio .

Pete’s bio works in both his personal & professional story. Instead of being just a list of facts, it includes the story of how he was mistaken for a drug dealer in Google — and how it became the turning point in his career that led to  BrandYourself .


Thank you for your post. A bio accompanied with a powerful and enticing resume are your two most important sales tools.

When presenting these documents you only have on chance, first impressions count. Your blog goes a long way in creating the correct image with a bio.

Thanks again

This info was very helpful. Is there any info on creating a health bio?

Thanks for the input. One way I was able to create my own personal brand was by using a new website called it was really helpful in bringing all my thoughts ideas and accomplishments together. It builds credibility and others can validate my work. You can also create different Bios based on who you are showing it to. ( Future/existing employers, family, friends etc.) I think it really sets me apart.

Thank you for the tips. Being in the process of publishing my first book I’ve had to generate a bio and despite the fact that I call myself a writer I had a tough time with it. This site has given me a much better feel for the whole thing. Keep an ey on my site for the updated version.

I had the same problem lol I call myself a writer, author but this at first was so freaking difficult to write until I found this web site to break it completly down to like what first grade level for me. lol now it makes so much since. I’m glad we got it. 🙂

I know more much than the bio rules of the kindes of the people

Thank you. These tips are easy to follow and I didn’t know about the 3 bio rule! I really enjoyed the breakdown of the other bio and used that to help me get started writing mine.

Thanks again!

Thanks this was nice and simpe and easy to use.

Thanks! As a novice this was really helpful.

Thanks for posting this tool to the web. Over and over again, I recreate the wheel college course after college course and more recently for my introduction into the civilian arena. I am more confident now that I have this standardized method of writing bios in hand. Army Strong!

@Craig: Thanks, glad you loved it!

@Martin: Absolutely! Your bio is one of the most powerful tools to control first impressions. It’s got to pack a concise and serious punch.

@EASanders: The principles of bio writing apply to all fields. Think about what you’ve done that is noteworthy, and say it in as few words as possible 🙂

@Tim: Good luck with your book, Tim!

@LaKaye: I’m glad both of my bio articles could help. Sometimes it takes inspiration from other people to compellingly talk about ourselves.

@Rose: Thanks for the kind words!

@Martie: We’ve got a bunch of other excellent articles on resumes, cover letters, interviews, etc. if you’re looking to work on your entire career toolkit.

@Sapp: Great! The beauty of your bio is that once you consciously sit down and write it once, then you have a strong foundation that you can tweak for the rest of your life.

– Pete Kistler CEO, @pete_kistler and @brandyourself

Go get ’em tiger!

 Thanks for Guding ….. Wonderful tips..Thanks a lot


hi thanks so much for this wonderful guide. am so grateful.

great article – thanks for the tips!  you guys rock!

The tips are so helpful .  Thanks

thank you for the tips

great tips it helps me alot….

Thank you for this amazing and helpful tip.

supper is ready yum, come and get your biscuits!

tips are very useful. thank you so much

The best I’ve see yet

thank you so much this will really help me get in to the film fest from cruisinwithkenny

useful tips for me

thanx helped me alot

helpful tips…thanks!

That’s what I looked for . Thanx for that ♡♥

if you want to make a biography you need to know all about you ,family , and friends so you can write a biography

Really good information…especially the getting feedback part. While we may not want to hear it, we NEED it sometimes. Good friends who know what they’re doing can be very valuable in this situation.

So many things I wouldn’t even consider. Thanks for the tips. They are timely, since I am just going through a total rebrand!

You raise a good point, in fact you are ‘fixing’ something right now. You are adding your unique perspective as an ‘innovator’ in the information age that can assist other unlikely writers to get branded and ranked. Maybe it would be a great idea to answer questions in Quora, Yahoo Answers and the like. That can be your links to your ‘works’.

Nice article. thanks for share.

Surely in your many years of experience there are some good/funny/genius problems/solutions or stories you’ve lived or caused. Share them. 🙂

Thanks! TIps #3, #5, and #6 were especially helpful for me. I also find useful this article on how to write a biography so I recommend reading it as well. I also find really helpful suing samples. At least, it’s really helpful for me!

Thank you so much for this great blog. You wrote lot of valuable information about how to write Personal Biography . I like your post. I agree to all of your points that you have mentioned.

For me, the key to this article is section 6. Anymore, I DON’T think the expectation is a list of your accomplishments. I think the people who make the decisions based on biographies are looking for something different, a way to truly distinguish one person from another. A list says one thing about a person–a STORY says something much different. It SHOWS you are creative. A story gives you a lot of flexibility and opportunity to qualify yourself; a list is often reduced to a quantity. Dylan makes an excellent point about ‘sources’ or achievement; in a technician’s role, resolution can be rote, but my experience is solving problems presents lots of opportunities to get creative. David also makes an outstanding point: even if you truly don’t have anything that qualifies as an accomplishment, in this day and age, there are numerous ways to create demonstrable achievement. I believe that’s what the Gig Economy is all about. Dave mentions two specifics; there are dozens more opportunities. This could be an important consideration if you have been stuck for a while in a job that TRULY sucks. I’ve been in those. Then, the story REALLY comes in handy–’cause you don’t have to dwell exclusively on work related stuff. Never hurts to show people you are compassionate, or generous, or kind.

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How long will it take?

As our interview is self-paced, we’ve had people finish their story in a single sitting. Others love the process and continually refine and expand their answers over many months.

If you’re looking to interview your loved one yourself, we recommend setting aside at least 3 hours with them. Our questions will spark a wonderful conversation so enjoy the process and remember that you don’t have to get through all the questions in a single sitting.

How long do I have?

You have 12 months from your start date to complete your book. But don’t worry, that’s plenty of time! However, if you still need more time we will provide an additional 3 month extension at no cost to you. If you need longer than 15 months, then we do charge an additional fee of $5 per month until you finish writing (at which point we will design, print and deliver your book at no additional charge).

Can photos be added?

Yes. No autobiography is complete without photos and there are no restrictions on how many you can add!

Is there a page limit?

No. We don’t have any word limit, page limit or limit on the number of photos that can be added. That being said, if the final book ends up longer than 150 pages, we charge an additional 50 cents per extra page. That’s just to cover the extra printing cost. As a guide, most books end up around 100 pages.

What if my loved one has no email?

In these situations we recommend that you use our questions to interview your loved one yourself. Our questions will spark a wonderful conversation so enjoy the process and remember that you don’t have to get through all the questions in a single sitting.

What's the cost of additional books?

Your initial purchase with A Life Untold includes the first hardcover book designed, printed & delivered. In addition, we’ll provide a digital e-book at no extra charge to make it easy to share the final book with friends and family over email.

If you wish to order additional copies, they can be purchased for $79 per book (or $69 per book if you order 10 or more).

We offer free shipping throughout the USA, Australia, Canada, NZ and the UK.

You can place an order for additional copies of your book here:

Is the book kept private?

Yes. We take privacy seriously and don’t share personal information or our customer’s books with anyone unless given permission to do so.

Do you offer refunds?

Yes. If for any reason you’re not happy with your order we offer a 100% money back guarantee. Just let us know within 30 days of your purchase and we’ll provide a full refund. Our only requirement is that no books have been printed.

What's new at tredition

  • Writing Workshop

Writing a biography - 5 tips for a life story

  • At 11 May 2021

What is important in a biography?

The cover is a central element of your book and tells the reader a lot about the content. Therefore, it is also a design feature for a biography, with which you can attract readers to your story. When researching your biography, you should also be very thorough and look for sources that could be exciting for your story.

Beyond design and content, you should definitely consider some legal aspects, which we have compiled here. In the foreground is the protection of the personal rights of third parties. You will also learn whether you can publish a biography in a Publishing house or self-publishing should publish. Let me say right up front: There is no one "right" way. Your choice depends on your needs and goals.

What is a biography?

In general language use, biography and autobiography are often used synonymously. But in fact they are similar but not identical genres. In a biography the author writes about the life of another person. This person can be (world) famous or come from the private environment of the author.

The protagonist of an autobiography, on the other hand, is the author himself, because he writes about his own life. Many (more or less) well-known personalities have already written an autobiography. A current example is the biography of Michelle Obama. Some of these personalities have an (exciting) story to tell, but they lack the talent to write. Here help Ghostwriter or co-authors.

There is a growing number of less or not at all prominent people who write their life stories. The intention here is less the attention of a broad mass. Some autobiographers want to process events from the past by writing their book. Others try to encourage a certain target group to set an example or simply write down their personal life story for future generations.

Besides the basic distinction between biography and autobiography, the genre can be divided into four categories:

  • (Auto)biography: The chronological account of events in the life of a person. The time span reaches from birth to the time of the book. In a biography, the person concerned is often no longer alive. The focus of the work is on personal development.
  • (Auto)biographical novel: It contains the same elements as (auto)biography, but mixes real events with fictional ones. This serves to develop a tension that makes the life story particularly worth reading. Within the book the reader can hardly distinguish fiction and reality. However, it is important to point out in the preface that not all elements of the story are real.
  • Life memories: These can also be written about the author himself or another person. However, not the whole life is dealt with, but only important stages of life.
  • Memoirs: In this form of (auto)biography, the person is put back somewhat and placed in a social, political or historical context. In the memoirs of a politician, for example, personal life tends to take a back seat. The focus is on the political career.

How do I write a biography?

These four steps are important for a biography:

  • Think about who should read your biography
  • Work out a good structure for these readers
  • Define the appropriate writing style: factual or narrative
  • Identify the extraordinary moments of the biographed person

Whether you're writing about your own life or someone else's, the first thing you should do is create a structure and think about what is most important for the book. Particularly for an autobiography, this consideration includes who the target audience of the work should be. Do you want to record your life or certain events from it for friends, family and future generations? In this case, your focus of interest is probably not on the sales success of the autobiography. 

Nevertheless, a certain Arc of suspense When you publish a book, you are automatically competing with many other book titles. Always make sure that there is a common thread running through the story. Because no matter whether your private environment reads your book or a reader unknown to you: The claim should be that your book presents the respective topic and the portrayed person in an interesting and vivid way.

If your goal is to become a successful author, your book should cover the interest of a wide audience. So ask yourself what from your life is interesting and extraordinary for your readers. Maybe a special love story? A rare career path? A stroke of fate? An illness overcome? Remember to highlight the thematic aspects that make your life story stand out wherever the reader is drawn to your book: In the Subtitle of the book, in the short description, in the Blurb etc.

How is a biography structured?

First you need a rough structure for your narrative. A very simple timeline on which you record important life events can help here. You can also print this later in the book for better orientation for the reader. You can also use the timeline to plan time jumps and flashbacks without the book losing its logical context. This overview also helps you to filter out key stages of your life. Because you should not include too many events, both you as author and the reader will lose the overview. For this reason, you should also determine from the beginning how much and, in relation to individual topic blocks, how detailed you write.

What makes an exciting biography?

Every author knows Writer's Block . In the case of a narrative about one's own life, there is the additional complication that one often wonders whether certain events are actually interesting for a (broad) audience. In the introduction we have already put forward the thesis that there are extraordinary aspects in every life, you just have to find them and process them in an interesting way.

In order to help you find your way through this process, we have put together some questions that will help you keep the thread running and filter out exciting events. What belongs in a biography? With the answers to these questions, you will work out what makes a biography exciting:

  • What makes the person?
  • Who or what shapes her life and work?
  • Which events from childhood are important for later development?
  • Who are/were the most important companions? (relationships, friendships, colleagues, family, role models)?
  • What crises and successes has the person experienced?
  • What were the turning points in life?
  • What influence do political or social events have (religion or culture can also play a role here)?

Thorough research is important

In order to answer these questions, you will have to do extensive research, although this is limited in the case of an autobiography. However, if you want to link your own history with that of your family, then it is worth going to the registry office or city archives. In addition, every life is connected to historical events, so check these again carefully in any case.

Otherwise, research for an autobiography is limited to your home or that of your family. Look through photo albums, old letters, diaries or other records. This helps to refresh memories and gives you clues for the narrative. In addition, photos or other illustrations will liven up your finished book and give the characters a face for readers.

arouse emotions

The research for a biography is much more complex. Be sure to contact the person you are biographing. In the best case, you should have one or more personal conversations. Prepare yourself well for these and draw up a list of questions. During the interview, take notes or, if the person allows it, record the interview. Be an active listener and also let emotions such as enthusiasm, sadness or passion flow into the book. If a biography results from a direct conversation, the book will always have a very personal and lively touch and will make the person tangible.

However, if your main person is no longer alive or a conversation is not possible for other reasons, then contact descendants, friends or companions. Additionally, use all sources you can find. These include personal records, photo albums, diaries, videos, films, books, newspaper articles or documents from archives. Also view existing biographies. There is nothing wrong with getting inspiration. However, if you have a famous person about whom a lot has been written, you should look for a niche. In other words, an aspect of life about which not much is known yet.

If the person has a certain level of familiarity, the Internet also offers various databases. For example the Estate and Autograph Collection of the Hamburg State Library .

Set great store by accuracy and thoroughness in the research. However, you should not get too lost in details. The more information you find, the more difficult it can be to filter out exciting aspects for your book.

Use an appealing writing style

In a mystery novel, it's much easier to build up an arc of suspense. But (fortunately) murder and manslaughter do not occur in every life. Nevertheless, a biography must not be boring. It must have the suspense of a novel and the informational value of a Nonfiction show. To achieve this goal, you should develop a unique writing style. This can be humorous and cheerful or factual and informative. While you should stay true to your style, you should adapt it to the person and the events at hand. A consistent approach to perspective and tense is also recommended. In most cases, you will probably choose a first-person narrator and past tense for an autobiography.

entrée medias res

Furthermore, although you can orientate yourself on the chronological sequence of events, you do not have to start with the earliest time. Start your biography with an unusual and concise detail or period of your life. In this way, you will captivate your readers and build up a tension. Also, you should not string year after year and label the chapters with numbers only. This looks very dry and probably reminds your readers more of history lessons. Other elements to bring the person to life are photos, a timeline, important documents, a chronology of events, a family tree or a glossary. A preface and dedication will give your book a personal touch.

What legal aspects must be taken into account in a biography?

Detailed information on this can be found in the Federal Agency for Civic Education . By the way, the personal rights in Switzerland and Austria differ slightly from the German ones. For this reason, we recommend obtaining a declaration of consent from all persons present. This should not only be done for named persons. Especially with very famous people, it is often easy to guess the name from a description, which is equivalent to being mentioned by name. The same applies, by the way, to the publication of photos, pictures or other documents. Accuracy is the top priority here, because in the past there have been numerous disputes in this context, which often ended up in court. It is therefore essential to contact relatives if a person is no longer alive, because in this case the personal rights are transferred to third parties.

An autobiography is not the right medium to use for a personal act of revenge or as a reckoning with a particular person. This is not only extremely questionable from a human and legal point of view, but also contradicts the work of a professional author.

The requirements of a biography for layout and book cover

When you're writing a book, it's not just the actual content that matters. Every genre has different requirements for Layout and book covers. And these, in turn, have a very significant effect on the sales of your book. Why is that?

In terms of content, your book focuses on the biographed person, whereby different aspects can be highlighted. These can be, for example, personal development or the importance of the person in a historical context. The reader should recognize this directly on the cover of the book. This way, he or she already has a rough idea of what to expect when first looking at the book. His interest is aroused and he risks a second look at the book.

On the biographical novel "Henry VIII" by author Margaret George, for example, the monarch is depicted in the royal robe that was customary at the time. Otherwise, the cover is kept dark. So the reader expects a historical story from the Middle Ages and this is what he gets.

The following applies to the blurb: Do not string events together in excerpts, but summarize what the person is about. You can also briefly outline why you decided to write this (auto)biography. Please do not get lost in details, but write short and precise sentences.

Publish a biography in self-publishing or publishing house?

You've already received an answer to the question, "How do I write a biography?" Now the question remains: Where and how can you publish your biography. You can't think about that too early. Self-publishing or classic publishing house? Both options have their advantages and disadvantages. The advantage of a Publisher lies in the fact that the design and marketing of your book is done there. However, experience shows that only the works of well-known authors are promoted to any significant degree, so you have to do it yourself. Also, at major publishing houses, only a fraction of the submitted Manuscripts read at all. And even if you are accepted into a publisher's program, it can take up to a year or more for your book to be published.

If a renowned publishing brand is important to you, you should definitely make sure that the publishing house of your choice also fits the topic and profile of your (autobiography). You can read in detail at tredition what you need to bear in mind when submitting a manuscript.

A real alternative is therefore the Self-Publishing dar. Here you don't have to apply, but can publish your book immediately. Of course, depending on the service provider, you will receive less support in terms of layout, typesetting, illustration and marketing than in a traditional publishing house.

However, some service providers offer services to help you with this and not leave you on your own. We have written a detailed overview about this: "The best self-publishing platform: what to look for when comparing self-publishing providers" . If you want to self-publish, you can also take a look at tredition's tools. For example, our Cover Designer for the layout and the typesetting you create quickly and easily with the automatic book setting .

A biography is a special discipline within book writing. The art is to present the life of a person in an experienceable, exciting and authentic way. Nevertheless, you have to do justice to the person with your book. In order to master this challenge, you should put special emphasis on research and give the biography a suitable structure. In this way you write a book worth reading about an extraordinary person. But please never forget to pay attention to the personal rights of the people in the book.

If you've got the taste and would like to start writing and publishing your biography right away, get started with tredition: it's 100% free of charge!

Written from our team by


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Writing School

What Is Biography? Definition, Usage, and Literary Examples

Biography definition.

A  biography  (BYE-og-ruh-fee) is a written account of one person’s life authored by another person. A biography includes all pertinent details from the subject’s life, typically arranged in a chronological order. The word  biography  stems from the Latin  biographia , which succinctly explains the word’s definition:  bios  = “life” +  graphia  = “write.”

Since the advent of the written word, historical writings have offered information about real people, but it wasn’t until the 18th century that biographies evolved into a separate literary genre.  Autobiographies  and memoirs fall under the broader biography genre, but they are distinct literary forms due to one key factor: the subjects themselves write these works. Biographies are popular source materials for documentaries, television shows, and motion pictures.

The History of Biographies

The biography form has its roots in Ancient Rome and Greece. In 44 BCE, Roman writer Cornelius Nepos published  Excellentium Imperatorum Vitae  ( Lives of the Generals ), one of the earliest recorded biographies. In 80 CE, Greek writer Plutarch released  Parallel Lives , a sweeping work consisting of 48 biographies of famous men. In 121 CE, Roman historian Suetonius wrote  De vita Caesarum  ( On the Lives of the Caesars ), a series of 12 biographies detailing the lives of Julius Caesar and the first 11 emperors of the Roman Empire. These were among the most widely read biographies of their time, and at least portions of them have survived intact over the millennia.

During the Middle Ages, the Roman Catholic Church had a notable influence on biographies. Historical, political, and cultural biographies fell out of favor. Biographies of religious figures—including saints, popes, and church founders—replaced them. One notable exception was Italian painter/architect Giorgio Vasari’s 1550 biography,  The Lives of the Most Excellent Painters, Sculptors, and Architects , which was immensely popular. In fact, it is one of the first examples of a bestselling book.

Still, it wasn’t until the 18th century that authors began to abandon multiple subjects in a single work and instead focus their research and writing on one subject. Scholars consider James Boswell’s 1791  The Life of Samuel Johnson  to be the first modern biography. From here, biographies were established as a distinct literary genre, separate from more general historical writing.

As understanding of psychology and sociology grew in the 19th and early 20th centuries, biographies further evolved, offering up even more comprehensive pictures of their subjects. Authors who played major roles in this contemporary approach to biographing include Lytton Strachey, Gamaliel Bradford, and Robert Graves.

Types of Biographies

While all biographical works chronicle the lives of real people, writers can present the information in several different ways.

  • Popular biographies are life histories written for a general readership.  The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks  by Rebecca Skloot and  Into the Wild  by Jon Krakauer are two popular examples.
  • Critical biographies discuss the relationship between the subject’s life and the work they produced or were involved in; for example,  The Billionaire Who Wasn’t: How Chuck Feeney Secretly Made and Gave Away a Fortune  by Conor O’Clery and  Unpresidented: A Biography of Donald Trump  by Martha Brockenbrough.
  • Historical biographies put greater understanding on how the subject’s life and contributions affected or were affected by the times in which they lived; see  John Adams  by David McCullough and  Catherine the Great  by Peter K. Massie.
  • Literary biographies concentrate almost exclusively on writers and artists, blending a conventional  narrative  of the historical facts of the subject’s life with an exploration of how these facts impacted their creative output. Some examples include  Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay  by Nancy Milford and  Jackson Pollock: An American Saga  by Gregory White Smith and Steven Naifeh.
  • Reference biographies are more scholarly writings, usually written by multiple authors and covering multiple lives around a single topic. They verify facts, provide background details, and contribute supplemental information resources, like bibliographies, glossaries, and historical documents; for example,  Black Americans in Congress, 1870-2007  and the  Dictionary of Canadian Biography .
  • Fictional biographies, or biographical novels, like  The Other Boleyn Girl  by Philippa Gregory, incorporate creative license into the retelling of a real person’s story by taking on the structure and freedoms of a novel. The term can also describe novels in which authors give an abundance of background information on their characters, to the extent that the novel reads more like a biography than fiction. An example of this is George R.R. Martin’s  Fire and Blood , a novel detailing the history of a royal family from his popular  A Song of Ice and Fire

Biographies and Filmed Entertainment

Movie makers and television creators frequently produce biographical stories, either as dramatized productions based on real people or as nonfiction accounts.


This genre is a nonfictional movie or television show that uses historical records to tell the story of a subject. The subject might be a one person or a group of people, or it might be a certain topic or theme. To present a biography in a visually compelling way, documentaries utilize archival footage, recreations, and interviews with subjects, scholars, experts, and others associated with the subject.

Famous film documentaries include  Grey Gardens,  a biography of two of Jacqueline Kennedy’s once-wealthy cousins, who, at the time of filming, lived in squalor in a condemned mansion in the Hamptons; and  I Am Not Your Negro , a biography of the life and legacy of pioneering American author James Baldwin.

Television documentary series tell one story over the course of several episodes, like  The Jinx :  The Life and Deaths of Robert Durst , a biography of the real estate heir and alleged serial killer that focused on his suspected crimes. There are many nonfiction television shows that use a documentary format, but subjects typically change from one episode to the next, such as A&E’s  Biography  and PBS’s  POV .

These films are biographical motion pictures, written by screenwriters and performed by actors. They often employ a certain amount of creative liberty in their interpretation of a real life. This is largely done to maintain a feasible runtime; capturing all of the pivotal moments of a subject’s life in a 90- or 120-minute movie is all but impossible. So, filmmakers might choose to add, eliminate, or combine key events and characters, or they may focus primarily on one or only a few aspects of the subject’s life. Some popular examples:  Coal Miner’s Daughter , a biography of country music legend Loretta Lynn;  Malcom X , a biopic centered on the civil rights leader of the same name; and  The King’s Speech , a dramatization of Prince Albert’s efforts to overcome a stutter and ascend the English throne.

Semi-fictionalized account

This approach takes a real-life event and interprets or expands it in ways that stray beyond what actually happened. This is done for entertainment and to build the story so it fits the filmmaker’s vision or evolves into a longer form, such as a multi-season television show. These accounts sometimes come with the disclaimer that they are “inspired by true events.” Examples of semi-fictionalized accounts are the TV series  Orange Is the New Black ,  Masters of Sex , and  Mozart of the Jungle —each of which stem from at least one biographical element, but showrunners expounded upon to provide many seasons of entertainment.

The Functions of Biography

Biographies inform readers about the life of a notable person. They are a way to introduce readers to the work’s subject—the historical details, the subject’s motivations and psychological underpinnings, and their environment and the impact they had, both in the short and long term.

Because the author is somewhat removed from their subject, they can offer a more omniscient, third-person narrative account. This vantage point allows the author to put certain events into a larger context; compare and contrast events, people, and behaviors predominant in the subject’s life; and delve into psychological and sociological themes of which the subject may not have been aware.

Also, a writer structures a biography to make the life of the subject interesting and readable. Most biographers want to entertain as well as inform, so they typically use a traditional  plot  structure—an introduction,  conflict , rising of tension, a climax, a resolution, and an ending—to give the life story a narrative shape. While the ebb and flow of life is a normal day-to-day rhythm, it doesn’t necessarily make for entertaining reading. The job of the writer, then, becomes one of shaping the life to fit the elements of a good plot.

Writers Known for Biographies

Many modern writers have dedicated much of their careers to biographies, such as:

  • Kitty Kelley, author of  Jackie Oh! An Intimate Biography; His Way: The Unauthorized Biography of Frank Sinatra ; and  The Family: The Real Story of the Bush Dynasty
  • Antonia Fraser, author of  Mary Queen of Scots ;  Cromwell; Our Chief of Men ; and  The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605
  • David McCullough, author of  The Path Between the Seas; Truman ; and  John Adams
  • Andrew Morton, author of  Diana: Her True Story in Her Own Words; Madonna ; and  Tom Cruise: An Unauthorized Biography
  • Alison Weir, author of  The Six Wives of Henry VIII; Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God; Queen of England ; and  Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and His Scandalous Duchess

Examples of Biographies

1. James Boswell,  The Life of Samuel Johnson

The biography that ushered in the modern era of true-life writing,  The Life of Samuel Johnson  covered the entirety of its subject’s life, from his birth to his status as England’s preeminent writer to his death. Boswell was a personal acquaintance of Johnson, so he was able to draw on voluminous amounts of personal conversations the two shared.

What also sets this biography apart is, because Boswell was a contemporary of Johnson, readers see Johnson in the context of his own time. He wasn’t some fabled figure that a biographer was writing about centuries later; he was someone to whom the author had access, and Boswell could see the real-world influence his subject had on life in the here and now.

2. Sylvia Nasar,  A Beautiful Mind

Nasar’s 1998 Pulitzer Prize-nominated biography of mathematician John Nash introduced legions of readers to Nash’s remarkable life and genius. The book opens with Nash’s childhood and follows him through his education, career, personal life, and struggles with schizophrenia. It ends with his acceptance of the 1994 Nobel Prize for Economics. In addition to a Pulitzer nomination,  A Beautiful Mind  won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Biography, was a  New York Times  bestseller, and provided the basis for the Academy Award-winning 2001 film of the same name.

3. Catherine Clinton,  Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom

Clinton’s biography of the abolitionist icon is a large-scale epic that chronicles Tubman’s singular life. It starts at her birth in the 1820s as the slave Araminta Ross, continuing through her journey to freedom; her pivotal role in the Underground Railroad; her Moses-like persona; and her death in 1913.

Because Tubman could not read or write, she left behind no letters, diaries, or other personal papers in her own hand and voice. Clinton reconstructed Tubman’s history entirely through other source material, and historians often cite this work as the quintessential biography of Tubman’s life.

4. Megan Mayhew Bergman,  Almost Famous Women

Almost Famous Women  is not a biography in the strictest sense of the word; it is a fictional interpretation of real-life women. Each short story revolves around a woman from history with close ties to fame, such as movie star Marlene Dietrich, Standard Oil heiress Marion “Joe” Carstairs, aviatrix Beryl Markham, Oscar Wilde’s niece Dolly, and Lord Byron’s daughter Allegra. Mayhew Bergman imagines these colorful women in equally colorful episodes that put them in a new light—a light that perhaps offers them the honor and homage that history denied them.

Further Resources on Biography

Newsweek  compiled their picks for the  75 Best Biographies of All Time .

The Open Education Database has a list of  75 Biographies to Read Before You Die .

Goodreads put together a list of readers’  best biography selections .

If you’re looking to write biographies,  Infoplease  has instructions for writing shorter pieces, while  The Writer   has practical advice for writing manuscript-length bios.

Ranker  collected  a comprehensive list of famous biographers .

Related Terms

  • Autobiography
  • Short Story

written biography story


Supported by

‘Snoop’ Pearson Wants to Tell Her Story, With Help From a ‘Wire’ Friend

The actress known for stealing scenes in “The Wire” is teaming with series co-creator Ed Burns to turn her life story into a TV show.

  • Share full article

A portrait of Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, looking at the camera while wearing a zipped up black jacket.

By Jonathan Abrams

Jonathan Abrams is the author of a book about the making of “The Wire.”

Felicia “Snoop” Pearson is running a few minutes late to a joint interview alongside her writing partner Ed Burns, so Burns fills the time with a helpful story about one of the few other instances of her truancy.

More than two decades ago, the actor Michael K. Williams had asked Pearson to accompany him onto the set of “The Wire” after she brazenly introduced herself to him at a Baltimore nightclub.

Burns, who with David Simon cocreated the landmark show that explored institutional failures, admired her distinct tattoos and gravelly Baltimore drawl. Williams and some of the actors vouched for Pearson as an authentic resource who would give the show additional credibility.

Burns had a spot on the show for her, he promised, if she limited any illicit activity and showed up the next week.

The day Pearson was to appear on camera, Burns said, he received a frantic phone call. “I didn’t know the car was stolen,” Pearson hurriedly began.

Through some deciphering, Burns discovered that Pearson had visited New York with friends for Pride Week. During the journey, they noticed a cop car’s flashing lights and pulled over. The driver of the car had no idea the vehicle he had purchased was stolen. Police searched Pearson, discovered a pocketknife and took her into custody. She did not make call time.

Burns reassured her that he would cast her again.

“Two weeks later, she was there,” he said. “And she was there on time, if not before, every time after.”

The investment kick-started Pearson’s reign as one of television’s most harrowing characters, a dedicated female street soldier in a drug dealing crew also called Snoop who was equal parts detached and calculating.

To form this character, Pearson reflected on the harsh realities of her east Baltimore upbringing, conjuring a fictionalized version of herself who the horror writer Stephen King described as “perhaps the most terrifying female villain to ever appear in a television series.”

“Sometimes I just go back and just hear my voice and I’d be like, ‘Damn, people really had to put the caption on their TV to really know what I was saying,” Pearson laughed, once she made it onto the video call and apologized for taking cold medicine that left her sluggish.

Talking about her first days on the set of “The Wire,” Pearson, then in her early 20s, compared the experience to being in a courtroom, with a mostly white crew judging her performance. The tension faded thanks to the cross-generational bond she formed with Burns, the nearly 60-year-old former homicide detective and middle-school teacher whose experiences informed the show that has come to be seen as one of the best of all time.

Burns, whom she affectionately calls “Pops,” became her confidant and it was a relationship that outlasted the show, which aired its final episode in 2008.

Recently, the pair wrote a limited-series television show, “A.K.A. Snoop,” based on Pearson’s life, that explores the environment Pearson endured growing up in Baltimore. It explores the brutality of growing up in a poor, racist society, “in a way that you only glimpse in other shows,” Burns said. “It’s all focused on this one child and her journey, and what evolves around her and what it takes for her to become what she became in order to survive.”

They plan to shop the show in spring amid a challenging environment, as the era of Peak TV draws to a close and studios greenlight fewer scripted projects.

“Obviously, I am rooting for Ed and Snoop,” Simon wrote in an email. “And yes, everything about Felicia’s story is compelling.”

The show exists in the Baltimore crevices that created “The Wire,” a fictional show that depicted institutions failing the masses. But the new project narrows its lens, depicting factual snippets of her life for a story of survival and resilience in spite of lurching systems.

“I’m Black, gay, got a criminal background,” Pearson said. “Every strike that’s against Black people, I got them.”

The series would showcase some pivotal moments in Pearson’s early life, starting with her being born three months premature to a crack-addicted mother. Later there’s Pearson at 4 years old, decked out in a new dress and waiting to meet the absentee mother who quickly locks her in a closet and strips off her clothes to sell in order to score drugs. By third grade, the impish Pearson smashes a bully over the head with a bottle.

The altercations continued, culminating when Pearson was 14 years old. Then, she killed 15-year-old, Okia Toomer, who Pearson said had come after her with a baseball bat in a crowd. Pearson was convicted of second-degree murder and served nearly seven years at the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women in Jessup, Md.

After her release, Pearson tried straightening out her life. She earned her G.E.D. and landed a job crafting car bumpers only to be fired, she says, when her employer learned of her felony conviction.

Soon after, Pearson found herself on the set of the “The Wire,” more out of curiosity — some of her homeboys had been talking about a show filmed around the corner from her grandmother’s house — than any fanciful hopes of becoming the next Cicely Tyson.

Yet Pearson ended up at the center of some of the show’s most indelible moments. Burns wrote one such scene specifically for Pearson: the season-four episode that opens with her character visiting a hardware store to purchase a nail gun. As a store employee goes over the technical details of the store’s best offering, it slowly dawns on him that the savvy customer with a haunting mix of curiosity and humor about firepower might not be in the construction business.

When Snoop pays him in cash, with a healthy tip, the employee protests. “You earned that bump like a [expletive], man,” she replies before toting the nail gun out of the store.

Pearson has been trying to tell her own story since those appearances, publishing in 2007 an memoir, “Grace After Midnight,” written with David Ritz, and later paying a screenwriting service for what she deemed to be a subpar retelling. Reviewing the script, Burns bluntly told her she had been ripped off.

She and Burns never lost touch after “The Wire” ended, but though Pearson sometimes sought out Burns’s advice, she didn’t always follow his earliest warning to stay out of trouble. In 2011, Pearson was arrested on drug charges and she received a suspended seven-year prison term.

During the pandemic, she hesitatingly approached Burns about working with her to adapt the book; Burns told her he had been waiting for her to ask. “I was like, ‘This could have been my first stop,’” Pearson said.

Working together would take time and be exhausting, Burns cautioned. He knew of Pearson’s affinity for gangster films, but knew he would need to prod her for stories on her childhood.

“Sometimes it was emotional,” Pearson said. “Sometimes, it just flowed out because I’m used to telling people how I feel.”

The pair exchanged ideas and scripts throughout much of the pandemic. Burns purchased Pearson a laptop and taught her how to use the popular screenwriting software, Final Draft. Pearson bought Burns an iPhone and tutored him on communicating more quickly.

Since “The Wire,” Pearson has appeared in Spike Lee’s films “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” and “Chi-Raq,” the long-running reality show “Love & Hip Hop: New York,” and the recent Mark Wahlberg vehicle “The Family Plan.” She lives in New York now and while she admits the search for new roles can run cold, her acting career is more than she could have dreamed of as a 20-something with no experience. Pearson never achieved the levels of fame of some former castmates like Idris Elba and Michael B. Jordan, who became box office stars, or the late Michael K. Williams, who worked steadily across film and television.

Pearson describes Williams, who died in 2021 of a drug overdose, as her protector. His death still affects her. She said she recently became emotional watching him on TV in the 2016 “Ghostbusters” reboot.

“Sometimes, you go crazy, but you not crazy,” Pearson said. “You hurting.”

Burns, who has collaborated with Simon on various shows since “The Wire,” said he wanted to offer Pearson the same break that Williams did all those years ago. But this time, she’s not an ensemble player. She’s the center.

“I come from Baltimore, so it ain’t no pressure at all because it’s my life story,” Pearson said. “Lord have mercy, it’s going to have you crying, laughing. All the emotions that you ever felt in your body or in this world.”

Jonathan Abrams writes about the intersections of sports and culture and the changing cultural scenes in the South. More about Jonathan Abrams

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Spotify’s new ‘Song Psychic’ is like a Magic 8 Ball that answers your questions with music

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Spotify is rolling out a new feature called Song Psychic that will allow its customers to ask Spotify questions and get answers in the form of music. The addition builds on the success of Spotify’s personalized, year-end review called Wrapped , which offers clever ways of turning Spotify’s music data into insights designed for social sharing. But in the case of Song Psychic, the goal is not to look back at your listening history, but to leverage Spotify’s understanding of music and song titles to answer a range of personal questions — like those you might ask a psychic or Magic 8 Ball just for fun.

To use the feature, you can visit on your mobile device or scan the QR code on Song Psychic’s website. 

Once in the new experience, you can pick from a variety of broader categories, like School, Friends and Family, Love, Career, Life’s Greatest Mysteries, My Future, Myself, Style and Lunch. (The latter can help you decide what to have for lunch!)

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Image Credits: Spotify

Within each section, there are a number of pre-populated questions you can tap on to get answers, like “Am I the drama?,” “Does my crush like me back?,” “Will I get a raise?,” “Should I go to prom?” and many others. Or, you can start typing your own question in the provided box and the app will start offering suggestions of others you could ask.

When you have entered your question, the “Song Psychic” asks you to press your finger on the screen, then colors swirl around as mystical music hums in the background before your answer is revealed in the form of a song.

For example, if you asked if someone has a crush on you, it might answer with a song titled “You Wish” (ouch!) or something more affirmative. Some of the answers are a bit mysterious. Just as a Magic 8 Ball sometimes refuses to answer a question with its “Ask Again Later” response, Spotify’s Song Psychic may respond with an answer of its own, like “Why?” instead of directly responding. Or it could offer a vague time frame, like “Eventually” (a song by Tame Impala). All its responses are in the form of musical tracks, however.

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We found that you don’t actually have to press your finger on the screen to get your response — that’s just a gimmick. But your answer is shareable by tapping on a button below, which pops up a built-in sharing sheet for posting the answer to WhatsApp, Instagram Stories, IG DMs, Messenger, Facebook/Facebook Stories, Snapchat, X, Messages and more.

Though Spotify doesn’t advertise the experience as being AI-powered, it does give you the feeling of asking an all-knowing AI chatbot a question. (The company says it works by matching specific keywords in song titles and questions.) On its FAQ, however, the company notes that its answers are “generated entirely at random,” meaning it’s not leveraging your personal data to come to its conclusions. The experience is also designed for “entertainment only,” the site warns, and “should not be considered a serious source of advice on any issue whatsoever” — an addition that a lawyer surely forced Spotify to include.

There’s a bit of a lag in navigating the app and getting responses at times — so it’s nowhere near as fast as something like ChatGPT. We also got stuck on a screen and the back button wouldn’t work during one of our tests. Still, the experience can be quite fun and would likely increase users’ time spent in the Spotify mobile app, if it were better advertised. The Song Psychic wasn’t immediately available through its own hub in the app, though, so you’d have to keep returning to the website to get it to pop it up.

Song Psychic is available to Spotify’s free and Premium subscribers in 64 markets and in 21 languages, the company says.

The company confirmed that Song Psychic is one of a number of initiatives designed to “celebrate the spirit of Wrapped year-round.” Already, it’s debuted various surprise, original interactive experiences for fans and artists, from the New Years-inspired “Playlist In a Bottle” to “My Top Five” artist experiences with Kendrick Lamar, The Weeknd, ROSALÍA, BTS and Taylor Swift.

Updated, 2/29/24, 12:54 p.m. ET with additional details.  

The zombie CVS, a late-capitalism horror story

How one washington, d.c., drugstore got spun by the culture wars into a symbol for america’s shoplifting panic.

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There is almost nothing left to steal at the CVS in Columbia Heights, and that gives you an idea of which items have actual value.

Blank CDs, for example — the thieves don’t even bother with them. The greeting card section has been left alone. The good magazines like Vogue and GQ and Sports Illustrated are gone, but there are still a few copies of Traditional Home, some special issues of Life devoted to Willie Nelson, and a Woman’s World that declares: “Bye bye, jiggly fat!” No soft drinks, but three gallon-sized jugs of Arizona green tea are still on the shelves on one recent visit.

The Style section

Everything else that remains in the store in Northwest D.C., which is not much, is under plexiglass: Dawn dish soap, L’Oreal shampoo, MiraLax, a handful of Clairol root touch-up hair dye kits, flu season combo packs of DayQuil and NyQuil. The diapers are behind the counter. The Cetaphil and Neutrogena face washes are under lock and key.

Other shelves, stretching entire aisles, are totally empty.

It has been like this since at least October, when the Legend of the Empty CVS of Washington began to spread beyond the District’s borders. It became a horror story of Late Capitalism. Tales were told on social media, and in the comments sections of local news stories, and they were full of spooky scenes (harsh fluorescent lights shining on bare shelves!) and jump scares (hordes of teenagers reportedly ransacking the stores!).

But the thing about scary stories is that they metastasize with each retelling. So by the time it got to the New York Post, and then the conservative British tabloids, and then Twitter accounts with names including “No. 1 Deplorable,” the empty CVS had somehow become a stand-in for all that is wrong with American cities — and liberals (and liberal democracy?) — in 2024.

In the meantime, the zombie CVS kept filling prescriptions, dead but somehow still shuffling along — until Thursday, when corporate shut it down, at last.

O n NextDoor, the social media site where neighbors go to ask whether fireworks are gunshots, the state of the CVS had become a consistent topic. One that usually devolved into people calling each other “thugs” or “Karens.”

“This unchecked lawlessness at any age needs to be stopped or the criminals will be governing us,” wrote one neighbor.

“Stop with the dog whistle nonsense,” wrote another.

“Its beginning to feel like the Columbia Frights of 20 years ago,” wrote yet another.

America is a sticky-fingered nation built on stolen land, and its current moral panic is about shoplifting. It’s not just a worry in Columbia Heights. All over the country, from sea to shining CVS, there are concerns about petty theft, which some retailers claim is worse than ever before. Videos of brazen thefts have gone viral. It has become a political talking point, and a political liability.

But the data is murky. Theft has gotten worse in some cities but better in others; it’s either underreported or overexaggerated, depending on whether you’re asking a corporation or a bureaucracy. Anecdotes and vibes have filled in the gaps. It doesn’t help that 2024 in America feels a bit like visiting a dying mall. Will some new stores open and bring everyone back, or will it be razed to create a parking lot?

The reasons this particular CVS’s shelves have been empty are complex, but Carlo Perri — co-chairman of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1A’s Committee on Public Safety — is trying to break them down as simply as possible.

First, there are the economic factors triggering human need: joblessness, inflation, a slow recovery from the pandemic. There have also been changes to how police officers do their jobs — “a dearth in active policing,” as Perri puts it, that started in the pandemic, combined with efforts to use alternative forms of crime deterrent. “But none of those alternatives really were implemented effectively, or as effectively as they could have been. ”

That dovetailed with CVS policy. Like many retailers, the drugstore chain employs security guards but instructs them not to pursue shoplifters. Meanwhile, in Washington, city officials say they’ve observed a rise in organized retail crime, which involves thefts of items to be resold on the street.

“If shoplifting is easy and available to you, with low accountability, then, you know, it just is a practical choice,” Perri says.

He and co-chairman Billy Easley personally met with corporate representatives from CVS to propose solutions, they say. The store was kept open while the company pondered its options, but left unstocked to prevent further losses, the co-chairs had been told.

“It’s embarrassing for people to walk into a neighborhood CVS or any store and for it to be barren. And there are many families that depended on that store,” Easley says. “Low-income families.”

Perri says they did “everything within our powers, as prescribed by the D.C. City Charter , to ensure that these businesses remained.” But those powers are limited: In January, CVS announced it would close the store on Feb. 29.

In a statement, CVS spokeswoman Amy Thibault called it a “difficult decision” and noted that all prescriptions would be transferred to other nearby CVS locations.

But while she cited factors such as “local market dynamics” and “population shifts” to explain the closure, she made no reference to the widely reported incidents of shoplifting and declined to answer specific questions about the Columbia Heights store.

Ward 1 Councilmember Brianne K. Nadeau — who is facing a recall campaign led by a Columbia Heights business executive who feels Nadeau has not done enough to address crime — declined to comment. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser took a question about the imminent closure of the empty CVS during an unrelated Jan. 25 news conference about a new blood transfusion program.

“We have to stop treating it … like kids just shoplifting a thing or two, because it’s having real impact on the ability for people to get the goods and services that they need,” said Bowser. “So the law has to be right. The police have to be able to do their jobs. And the prosecutors have to do their jobs. We do have to send the message in our city that stealing anything, anywhere, has consequences.”

B efore the Washington CVS got caught up in the culture wars, it was the San Francisco Whole Foods.

The high-end grocery chain struggled with theft at its primary downtown outpost — as well as the drug use and violence that had frustrated the neighborhood well before the store opened. When these factors led to the store’s closing in April 2023, partisan critics on Fox News greeted the news with glee. If a Whole Foods couldn’t make it in San Francisco — the land of $14 kombucha and artisanal farro — then things must be really “spiraling out of control,” said Geraldo Rivera on Fox’s “The Five.”

“This city is disgusting,” declared co-host Jesse Watters. And “now, they can’t have organic rhubarb.”

In certain conservative circles, there’s a wild narrative about cities as terrifying hellholes of crime, theft and lawlessness. The bleakness of the D.C. CVS played right into this belief.

“The shelves are literally empty at CVS in DC thanks to shoplifters,” posted one account called End Wokeness on X. “Don’t care. They voted for this.”

“Democrat’s [sic] soft-on-crime policies have made our American cities uninhabitable!” wrote the Center for Renewing America, a conservative think tank, on X. Research has not found a correlation between political party leadership and a city’s crime rate.

“You can make it a left-wing, right-wing argument all day long. But at the end of the day, it’s a community issue,” says Karl Langhorst, a retail theft prevention expert who teaches at the University of Cincinnati’s School of Criminal Justice. “Organized retail crime has been around for many years and gone through many different political parties in power.”

While it’s true that the Columbia Heights CVS, as well as parts of the surrounding neighborhood, are experiencing crime and theft, it’s hardly the dystopian nightmare that outsiders make it out to be. It’s not even a retail desert: A Lidl grocery and a Burlington clothes store recently opened in the shopping complex cater-cornered from the CVS. An Indian restaurant is about to make its debut up the street.

Also: There is another CVS pharmacy inside the Target literally one block away from this one.

But, yes, there are certain visuals that encourage a sense of dystopia or paranoia. That same Target has closed one of its entrances, and it has posted a sign at the other stating that unaccompanied minors are prohibited.

I f we try to judge by the social-media algorithms that feed off our fears and lusts, shoplifting seems worse. But is it?

The data doesn’t tell a clear picture, Langhorst says, because crimes are not always reported to authorities.

“In many cases, law enforcement doesn’t respond because they don’t have the resources to do so,” Langhorst says. Some jurisdictions don’t make it easy for retailers to file reports online, too. “So now the perception becomes, from a retailer’s perspective, ‘Why waste my time reporting if nothing is going to get done about it?’”

But industry groups have also overexaggerated the problem. In December, the National Retail Federation “retracted a claim that ‘organized retail crime’ accounted for nearly half of all inventory losses in 2021 after finding that incorrect data was used for its analysis,” Reuters reported .

When industry professionals talk about “shrink” — retail jargon for financial losses due to thefts — they talk about the “increased violence and just brazenness” that they’ve observed among shoplifters lately, Langhorst says. Is it especially bad in D.C.?

“D.C. is one of the cities that is high on the radar of opportunities and challenges,” Langhorst says, which is a polite way of saying, yes, it is.

In January, Fox 5 reported on a set of fliers that had been posted in Columbia Heights with the rallying cry “Shoplifters Unite,” encouraging people to “Take everything that’s not nailed down. Bust windows.” The poster also makes allegations of racism against a Safeway manager and contains a jumble of left-wing talking points referencing Palestine, reparations, the Black Lives Matter movement, and disability rights. It seemed, quite frankly, very fake , designed to exacerbate neighborhood tensions. The Fox reporters took it seriously, interviewing people in front of the zombie CVS.

Last month, that particular Safeway — which sits half a mile from the CVS, in Lanier Heights — installed new security gates that require customers using the self-checkout to scan their receipts before they leave. Days later, the store was robbed, according to WTOP. A week later, federal prosecutors charged a manager of a D.C. Walgreens with conspiracy , for orchestrating a series of violent robberies on his own store.

Maybe there’s just some ennui about nihilistic lawlessness in 2024. If a former president can commit financial crimes — and still run for office and probably win his party’s nomination — well, what’s a little petty shampoo theft, in the grand scheme of things?

Besides, there’s a Robin Hood mentality that has long bedeviled the folks like Langhorst who are charged with preventing retail theft. Thieves assume that a massive corporation can absorb the losses of petty thefts. Some shoplifters view it as a form of anti-capitalist social activism .

But as activism, it’s rather ineffective — more likely to harm a store’s lower-paid workers than the chain’s chief executive Karen Lynch, who was paid $21.3 million in 2022, according to CVS regulatory filings.

“When you’re stealing from that store, you are in fact stealing from those employees, in a sense, because it does impact their livelihood,” Langhorst says.

Though the CVS spokeswoman’s statement said that all of the store’s employees were being offered jobs at other locations, a Columbia Heights employee who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak for the company said he was still unsure whether he would be offered work at another CVS once this one closed.

B ack to the brains of this zombie operation: the employees.

In the dwindling, final days of this CVS, there are still a few prescriptions awaiting pickup. Outside, an automated recording can be heard in a robotic voice: “This is a security operations center. This property is being monitored.”

It might seem a bit unnerving to work in an empty CVS, but a lone employee running the register points out that there’s still plenty to do. There are passport photos to take. He had to open the case whenever anyone wanted to buy the few remaining hair products behind plexiglass. The diapers and baby formula are all behind the counter, which is his domain.

A man enters the store and holds up a picture of Charms Blow Pop lollipops on his phone, asking if they had any.

“No candy,” says the clerk. (No candy at a CVS? Maybe we are in the end times.)

The customer looks around at the shelves, barren of American plenty. “It’s all like this?” he asks.

Certainly feels that way, sometimes.

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