Tell me your life story.
The older you get, the more of an impossible task this seems.
Do you start with the day you were born? Do you include the story of your sixth birthday party or the story of when you were 17 and almost wrecked your mom’s car? How do you know what to include and what’s not worth mentioning?
You face the same struggle when writing a biographical essay. The person you’re writing about is probably a celebrity, a political figure, or a historical figure, so it’s likely they’ve lived a pretty fab life.
So how do you condense a lifetime of information into a few pages of interesting writing?
Well, you’ll need to do a lot of reading, a fair amount of condensing information, and a bit of planning in order to write a lively biographical essay.
How to Write a Lively Biographical Essay
A biography is essentially the story of a person’s life. But in order to write a lively biographical essay, you can’t simply tell every detail of a person’s life since birth.
This is just too much information. Plus, the biography would include a lot of details that are mundane. Those details don’t make for interesting information to include in your paper.
So where do you start?
Start with research.
Learn about your subject
Writing about a person is a little different, though. You won’t likely find many scholarly research articles about your subject. You might not find any current news articles about your subject, either (unless, of course, you’re writing about Lindsay Lohan, who seems to be in the news almost daily).
Where do you find sources to help write a lively biographical essay?
Here are a few general ideas:
- Book-length biographies
- News articles
- Memoirs and diaries
Here are a few specific biographical sources:
- Biography.com: This website is part of the A & E Television Network. It provides biographies about artists, authors, political figures, and other celebrities. Some biographies even include biographical videos.
- PoetryFoundation.org: If you’re writing about a poet, this source contains detailed biographical content, lists of publications, and additional links to other articles about the poet.
- Biblio.com: If you’re writing about an author, this site has over 340 author biographies, from classic to current authors.
- Infoplease.com: This website provides short biographical sketches, but it can be an especially useful site if you’re looking for a person to write about.
What’s your point?
As I mentioned earlier, the point of a biographical essay is not to simply write everything you can about your subject.
You need to make some type of argument about the person you’re writing about.
After you’ve completed your research, look for patterns in the person’s life, analyze the person’s actions, examine the events of his or her life, and make connections.
Here’s what I mean.
Let’s say you’re writing about Miley Cyrus. What is it that you really want to say about her?
You might choose to focus on her childhood role of Hannah Montana or her current musical career. You might even look at her family background to examine her interest in fame and how she was able to break into the television and music scene.
Did you realize her father, Billy Ray Cyrus, was a one-hit-wonder in the 1980s? Maybe that’s the angle you can work with.
Maybe you want to write about Alec Baldwin. Let’s say you want to argue that he has anger management issues. In this case, you can point to angry voicemails, an assault of a photographer, run-ins with paparazzi, and the infamous airline Words with Friends incident.
You can use these examples (and other biographical information) to write Baldwin’s biography and focus on your claim that he has anger-management problems.
Armed with knowledge of your subject and with a focus for your writing, the next step is to decide which aspects of the person’s life you’ll include in your biographical essay.
You don’t want to start with a long list of events in the person’s life or a detailed discussion of every major or minor accomplishment. This not only makes for boring reading, but it’s also an impossible task.
People write entire books as biographies. You can’t write everything about a person’s life in just a few pages. Besides, you’re not trying to inform your readers of every single thing that ever happened to that person.
Your goal is to condense a person’s life story into a meaningful commentary.
This means you’ll tell a story as you write.
Remember, you’re writing a biography. You’ll need to write in chronological order. I’m sure you’ll start with something about when and where the person was born. From there, though, you’ll need to make some decisions.
For example, let’s say you decided to write about Miley Cyrus. You’re focusing on her family background and how or why she might have been influenced to enter the world of entertainment.
It’s probably not necessary to tell readers she attended Heritage Elementary School or that she’s allergic to the antibiotic Cephalexin (Wikipedia.com).
Similarly, if you’re writing about Alec Baldwin and his angry outbursts, the fact that he made his Broadway debut in 1986 probably isn’t needed in your biographical essay. Neither is the fact that, in 2009, he began hosting the radio program The New York Philharmonic This Week (Wikipedia.com).
Instead, in each of these examples, focus on key elements to help your readers understand more about the person you’re writing about.
Shape your story to help readers learn about your subject’s personality, about his or her character, and about the key focus of your paper.
Need some more inspiration? Check out these examples of biographical essays.
The Final Touches
As you wrap up your biographical essay, you might conclude with the end of the person’s life, the point at which the person made an amazing discovery. You might even end your paper with the pinnacle of your subject’s career.
No matter how you decide to write your conclusion, don’t forget to take a look at your opening again. Make sure you have a good hook and a catchy title. (And no, the person’s name you’re writing about should not be the title of your paper.)
Do you know who can provide some expert advice about titles? Kibin editors, of course! So send your paper our way for help with your title. We can help with the rest of your paper, too.