Writing an Extraordinary Biography (According to Barbara Kerley*)

YOU can write a biography, too.  Why not start with a member of your family, like Susy Clemens did when she wrote about her papa, Mark Twain?  Just follow her lead...

First, she gathered information on her subject--in this case, Papa.  Susy observed Papa carefully to learn his physical appearance; his personality; his routines and habits; his likes and dislikes.

        Tip:  You can study your subject through personal observation or by reading the accounts of others.  Be sure to take good notes so you won't forget anything important.

She gathered additional information by conducting interviews and reading books, articles, and letters.

        Tip:  Whenever possible, use primary sources--things written by people who actually know or knew your subject.  Think of primary sources as eyewitness accounts.

Next, she started writing, being careful to get the facts straight: people, places, dates, events, and accurate quotations.

        Tip:  Always double-check your facts.  This is when you'll be really glad you took good notes!

Susy brought her portrait to life by including specific details, lots of examples, and interesting quotations.

        Tip:  Writers follow the rule "Show, don't tell."  To make your biography lively, instead of just telling your readers that your subject is funny, give them an example of one of your subject's jokes.

Susy created a well-rounded portrait of Papa by showing his fine and not-so-fine habits; his serious and silly sides; and his difficulties as a child and his successes as an adult.

        Tip:  Everyone has flaws and everyone struggles from time to time, even famous people who have done great things.  Providing a balanced account will help your readers see your subject as a real person.

Finally, Susy asked for writing advice when she needed it: she consulted with a fellow author (in this case, Papa!).

        Tip:  Even if you don't happen to live with a world-famous author, you can get writing help from a teacher, parent, or librarian.  There are lots of people eager to see you write your own, extraordinary biography. 

                                                                        *with a lot of help from Susy

Adapted from The Extraordinary Mark Twain (According to Susy), by Barbara Kerley, illustrated by Edwin Fotheringham (Scholastic Press, 2010)