Biography Writing for Dummies with Story Terrace

Having trouble writing up a relative or ancestor's biography? Story Terrace has some great tips with "Biography Writing for Dummies"

Everyone’s Personal Biographer

Story Terrace - Everyone’s Personal Biographer

Biography Writing for Dummies with Story Terrace

[Editor’s Note: We received the following information filled with great tips on how to write a biography from our friends at Story Terrace. One of my focus areas with my own genealogy for 2017 is writing up family stories, ancestor bios and more. This is perfect timing for me!]

Story Terrace believes that in each and every family there are stories worth writing down. Writing your memoir is about personal reflection, sharing with family, friends and colleagues, and passing the torch to future generations.

The best biographies are written for novel reasons. A biography aims to inform, captivate, enrage, inspire, or all of the above. They offer us an extensive insight into the life of a remarkable person. They are the lifeblood of any section marked ‘Non-Fiction’.

The worst biographies are written for no reason at all. Or no real reason, anyway. They fail to capture the imagination and, as such, are often abandoned mid-way through, left unread on the dusty shelf of an obscure bookshop or marked as spam in a potential publisher’s inbox. And trust us, it happens all the time.

But it doesn’t have to be that way… No, Sir. That is why we are proud to present the Story Terrace guide to crafting a hit biography for dummies.

The Idea

One of the first recorded biographies to grace the page was Plutarch’s Parallel Lives. Written in the 1st Century by the Charles Dickens of Ancient Greece, the book was a compilation of the legacies of famous men (Julius Caesar, Alexander the Great and Coriolanus, to name but a few) and is, what you might call, a bestseller of the time.

Plutarch’s idea was to not simply write the history of these people, but to reflect on their character and how it was critical to their success.

It might not sound like a lot, but Plutarch was a life-writing revolutionary. He made the distinction between biography and plain old history, realizing that the thing that makes a story interesting is not the facts or events, but the feelings and motivations of the people involved. Why would someone buy Kim Kardashian’s best-selling autobiography when the information is available for free on Wikipedia? The answer is because it offers the reader a glimpse of the action, it narrows the gap between reader and subject, allowing us to understand them on a more personal level.

So how does this relate to your spine-tingling biography idea? Well, while you might have an idea of who you want to write about, it is also important to think in terms of: what makes your subject interesting? What is it about your subject that a reader would want to know (that they don’t already)? How can you make the story come alive?

Story Terrace - Everyone’s Personal Biographer

The Research

Depending on whether your subject is living, or unwilling to help, recently deceased or long deceased, your research may take a different path…

If they’re alive then your best shot, and primary research tool, would be to interview the subject, their family, friends and anyone else who may have a unique perspective on the person.

There are three basic ways of conducting an interview:

  • The hard journalistic method: Using heavily prepared, specific questions on a specific subject to reveal specific answers.
  • The soft journalistic method: Using prepared but open questions, allowing the interviewee to discuss the memories that they choose.
  • The conversational method: an open back-and-forth, letting the interviewee lead the discussion in the hope of revealing something a little special or unexpected.

Each method has its pros and cons, so it’s up to you to decide the best way of eliciting information from your interviewee. For example, if you’re collecting background information or trying to understand your subject as a person, then a soft journalistic or conversational method would probably work best. Whereas if you’re attempting to extrapolate succinct quotes or precise information, the hard journalistic method is the way to do it.

If you’re unable to rely on interviews, then it comes down to good old fashioned research ‒ roll up your sleeves and prepare for a long ride. You’re going to need to amass a wealth of primary and secondary sources if you want your biography to have any legitimacy, so hit the books, scan the internet and talk to experts for information.

Do periphery research, too. If your subject lived long ago, then study what life was like back then. What was happening socially, politically, and economically? What were the attitudes and opinions of the people around your subject? How might this have informed their life?

Though you should start with a fully-formed idea, remember to keep an open mind. You never know what you might find during your research, what you might learn that will shatter your preconceptions of the subject.

Most of all, keep in mind the words of Albert Szent-Gyorgyi: “Research is to see what everyone else has seen, and to think what nobody else has thought.”

Story Terrace - Everyone’s Personal Biographer

The Writing Process

So you’ve got a solid idea in the bank, you’ve done months upon months of research and now you’re ready to write. This is where it counts folks, so listen up…

What you’re essentially trying to do is condense an entire life into the form of a book; an interesting book. A book that someone might even want to read in their spare time. And let’s get one thing clear: life and life-writing are not the same thing. Life has no form, no structure and is completely unlike a book. Think about it: there’s barely any plot, no overarching themes and mostly bad dialogue. Twists and events are either predictable or random; and the ending’s always the same. In the words of Elbert Hubbard: “Life is just one damn thing after the other.” So how do you then leave your mark on your story? How do you create a beautiful narrative of your life story to share with others?

The job of the biographer, therefore, is to shape and condense a person’s life into a structured story.

This means focusing on the relevant parts of the subject’s life, choosing the bits that developed them as a person and arranging it all into narrative form. This means privileging suspense, humor, pathos and all the other things that spin a great yarn… We never said it was going to be easy.

The good news about this is the freedom. Want to start in the middle? Go for it. Have a unique theory about your subject? Stick it in. So long as all the action and events are verifiably true, anything else is generally fair game.

Writing a book is said to follow 3 stages:

  • Drafting: Creating and shaping the original body of text.
  • Revising: Reviewing and altering the text to craft a more cohesive work.
  • Editing: Correcting, organizing and condensing the text into the best it can be.

In reality, however, these stages tend to overlap and intermingle depending on the writer. Even so, it’s good to remember that the first draft is NEVER perfect and is often completely different to the finished product. Meaning: don’t get bummed out if things don’t seem to click at first. It may take several drafts and revisions to craft the biography of your dreams, but keep trudging onwards until you’re happy. Then, when you’re happy with the content, get down to the editing.

Ready to start work on your hit biography yet? Story Terrace is here to help! Let us bring your family research to life through text and photos printed in beautiful hardcover books. Our professional writers and editors help compile your legacy so you can share it easily with family, friends and future generations.

***

To receive 10% off your book package with Story Terrace, make sure to mention GeneaBloggers when you contact us!

Story Terrace. Everyone’s personal biographer
www.storyterrace.com (347) 442 7015
Caolan Blaney, Story Terrace

Story Terrace - Everyone’s Personal Biographer

Discover What You’re Made of with Grandparent Inheritance Charts from Legacy Tree Genealogists

Legacy Tree Genealogists announces the release of a free online tool enabling users to discover the percentages of DNA inherited from each grandparent.

[Editor’s Note: we received the following exciting information from our friends at Legacy Tree Genealogists . . . take a look at how you can use DNA test data to create an amazing DNA relationship chart.]

SALT LAKE CITY, UTAH – January 23, 2017 – Legacy Tree Genealogists, the world’s highest client-rated genealogy research firm and a leader in custom family history services, has announced the release of a free online tool which enables users to easily discover the percentages and segments of DNA inherited from each grandparent, often referred to as chromosome mapping. The tool produces a chart illustrating shared DNA segments by utilizing results from three autosomal DNA tests: one for themselves, one for a paternal grandparent and one for a maternal grandparent.

“On average, individuals will inherit approximately 25% of their DNA from each grandparent,” explains Paul Woodbury, Sr. Genetic Genealogist for Legacy Tree. “However, there can be quite a bit of variance, and the results can be fascinating. There is an innate human desire to know who we are, and where we come from, and this tool helps bring that desire to life in a very tangible way.”

How This Works

When an individual tests themselves, a paternal grandparent and a maternal grandparent, it is possible to identify the segments and percentages of DNA shared in common with each of their four grandparents. Any large segment of DNA that an individual shares with their grandparent was inherited from that grandparent. At any location on a person’s paternal chromosome, they can only have inherited DNA from either their paternal grandfather or their paternal grandmother. It is impossible to have inherited a single location from both grandparents on the same side. Therefore, any DNA that an individual does not share with a tested grandparent by process of elimination had to have come from the other grandparent on that side of their ancestry.

“By testing yourself, a paternal grandparent and a maternal grandparent, we can identify the amounts and segments of DNA you inherited from each of your grandparents, not just the ones you tested,” said Woodbury. “If you have tested more than two of your grandparents, great! Our tool accepts data for 2, 3, or 4 grandparents. The tool may also be used by those without living grandparents to determine which portions of their own DNA were inherited by their descendants.”

What More Can You Discover?

For an additional cost Legacy Tree Genealogists can take information from the Grandparent Inheritance Chart a step further and identify exactly which genes, and corresponding traits and characteristics, you inherited from each of your grandparents. Additionally, we can use chromosome mapping to explore which segments of DNA you inherited from more distant ancestors, and results can be used to extend your family tree.

To create your own free Grandparent Inheritance Chart access the tool at https://www.legacytree.com/inheritance. For additional information on Legacy Tree services, including chromosome mapping and genetic testing plans, please visit https://www.legacytree.com.

Legacy Tree Genealogists is the world's highest client-rated genealogy research firm. Founded in 2004, the company provides full-service genealogical research for clients worldwide, helping them discover their roots and personal history through records, narratives, and DNA. Based near the world's largest family history library in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, Legacy Tree has developed a network of professional researchers and archives around the globe. More information is available at https://www.legacytree.com.

About Legacy Tree Genealogists

Legacy Tree Genealogists is the world’s highest client-rated genealogy research firm. Founded in 2004, the company provides full-service genealogical research for clients worldwide, helping them discover their roots and personal history through records, narratives, and DNA. Based near the world’s largest family history library in downtown Salt Lake City, Utah, Legacy Tree has developed a network of professional researchers and archives around the globe. More information is available at https://www.legacytree.com.    

Genealogy Bargains for Monday 23 January 2017

FREE Webinar! Playing Nice in the Genealogy Sandbox presented by Thomas MacEntee, Wednesday, January 25th, 1:00pm Central - “Genealogy is all about connecting with your ancestors. As part of this process, we often need to connect with other genealogists and share research. It isn’t always as easy as it seems! Learn the best ways to connect with other family historians and share resources including research, documents and research strategies. Discover the various methods of locating other researchers and the best practices to ensure that your work is shared and credited in a responsible manner.”

UPDATED GENEALOGY BARGAINS for Monday, January 23, 2017

INDEX of Genealogy Bargains

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NEW Genealogy Bargains

FREE Webinar! Playing Nice in the Genealogy Sandbox presented by Thomas MacEntee, Wednesday, January 25th, 1:00pm Central - “Genealogy is all about connecting with your ancestors. As part of this process, we often need to connect with other genealogists and share research. It isn’t always as easy as it seems! Learn the best ways to connect with other family historians and share resources including research, documents and research strategies. Discover the various methods of locating other researchers and the best practices to ensure that your work is shared and credited in a responsible manner.”

  • FREE Webinar! Playing Nice in the Genealogy Sandbox presented by Thomas MacEntee, Wednesday, January 25th, 1:00pm Central – “Genealogy is all about connecting with your ancestors. As part of this process, we often need to connect with other genealogists and share research. It isn’t always as easy as it seems! Learn the best ways to connect with other family historians and share resources including research, documents and research strategies. Discover the various methods of locating other researchers and the best practices to ensure that your work is shared and credited in a responsible manner.” Click here to register – via Legacy Family Tree Webinars

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ONGOING Genealogy Bargains

Save 40% on German Genealogy Book Bundle at Shop Family Tree - regularly $46.98, now just $27.99 PLUS FREE SHIPPING

  • Save 40% on German Genealogy Book Bundle at Shop Family Tree – regularly $46.98, now just $27.99 PLUS FREE SHIPPING! – “Take your German genealogy research to the next level! In this bundle, you learn as much as possible about your German ancestors with maps, timelines, and sample records. You will also have worksheets to log your research progress! Whether your ancestors came from Bavaria, Baden, Prussia, or Hesse, this bundle will help you find your German ancestors on the Internet.” Click here to save – via Shop Family Tree

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NEW! Save 40% on Fold3 during 10th Anniversary Sale - regularly $79.95, now just $47.95 for a one year subscription.

Save 40% on Fold3 during 10th Anniversary Sale – regularly $79.95, now just $47.95 for a one year subscription. Get access to everything on Fold3, including many military records you won’t find elsewhere online:

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Plus many more! Offer expires January 31st. Click here for more info – via Fold3.

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Save 56% on Ancestry Power User Collection at Shop Family Tree - includes the brand new Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook by Nancy Hendrickson - regularly $136.95, now just $59.99 - “Expand your knowledge of the world's largest online resource for family history and become an Ancestry.com power user. If you are familiar with basic Ancestry.com searches but know little about the incredible databases and collection available for browsing, robust advanced search features, or the fun functions featured within Ancestry.com family trees, this collection is for you! You will learn essential and advanced search strategies to help you become a successful Ancestry.com user.” Click here to save - via Shop Family Tree

  • Save 56% on Ancestry Power User Collection at Shop Family Tree – includes the brand new Unofficial Ancestry.com Workbook by Nancy Hendrickson – regularly $136.95, now just $59.99 – “Expand your knowledge of the world’s largest online resource for family history and become an Ancestry.com power user. If you are familiar with basic Ancestry.com searches but know little about the incredible databases and collection available for browsing, robust advanced search features, or the fun functions featured within Ancestry.com family trees, this collection is for you! You will learn essential and advanced search strategies to help you become a successful Ancestry.com user.” Click here to save – via Shop Family Tree

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Disclaimer

All prices and offers are subject to change. Some items may be sold out and have limited inventory. Also check to see if you have automated purchase settings enabled, such as Amazon Buy with 1-Click: it is your responsibility to make sure you are getting the correct price for an item before you check out and finalize the transaction.

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