Dona Munker: Writing a Biography

      ~ Writing a Biography ~
      STALKING THE ELEPHANT
      About Writing Biography and Imagining a Life

SARA BARD FIELD: LINKING THE OUTER AND INNER STORIES

November 12, 2015

Tags: Beginnings, Daughter of Persia (book), Research, Sara and Erskine (book), Sara Bard Field, Telling the story

Sara Bard Field on tour
    I haven't talked much on this blog about my own work. But a couple of months ago someone sent me some good questions about choosing a subject, researching and writing a biography, and the kinds of challenges biography can involve.
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1. What initially drew you to the subjects you've chosen to write about?

   I tend to become obsessed with stories that can give me and my reader insights into human psychology and social change, especially if I can tell the story from the subject's perspective. I'm happiest writing from the inside out, so to speak. (more…)

TO FIND THE STORY, START BUILDING AN INTERACTIVE TIMELINE

January 3, 2015

Tags: Beginnings, Research, Telling the story, Writing process


    This is the third of four articles on how story and narrative work together in biography.

    Anyone who wants to write a biography that's more than just an encyclopedia article or a laundry list of the main events of the subject's life has to decide early on what story to tell and how the arc of the narrative will advance it.

         Elsewhere on this website, I discuss what what a story is in biography and the importance of the "red thread" for selecting what to include in the narrative. In this post, I'll describe what I consider the most important tool for identifying the story and keeping it on track as your interpretation of it becomes refined by new information and insights. (more…)

    SO WHAT'S THE STORY?

    October 13, 2014

    Tags: Beginnings, Biography and imagination, Telling the story

    "Unwritten Story" (© Reproduced by permission of Hiroko Yoshimoto.)
    That joke in the sidebar about the sculptor and the elephant may be an old saw (no pun intended), but it's a perfect analogy for carving a story from what may at first seem a daunting and, often, seemingly disconnected body of research.

        Being able to define and project a story about the subject is among the biographer's first and most urgent tasks. For one thing, even in the early stages, having at least a hypothesis about the particular story you want to tell is the best way to get a grip on all that research. If only for that reason, understanding what "story" means for biography is critical. (more…)

    MANAGING YOUR RESEARCH: A "DEEP CHRONO" TIMELINE CAN HELP

    June 26, 2013

    Tags: Beginnings, Research, Telling the story

    I know I promised to get back to the subject of organizing primary research in biography, and I'll return to talking about data files and headnotes soon. Before that, however, I'd like to pass on an idea that comes to us courtesy of—get ready—the CIA.

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    First, a brief but relevant digression. In a post last year, I discussed the essential "red thread" of narrative and how important it is to keep an eye on it at all times. (more…)

    ROBERT MASSIE: BIOGRAPHY'S KEY INGREDIENTS (TBC REPORT)

    December 6, 2012

    Tags: Beginnings, Telling the story, Robert K. Massie, TBC reports

    Robert Massie: Storytellers have "three ingredients" to think about. (Photo © Alex Remnick)
    Robert K. Massie, the journalist and historian whose gift for vivid narrative has made him the preeminent American biographer of Russian royals, makes his job sound easy. “I am a storyteller,” he explains modestly, adding that he writes biography because “telling stories about people in the past is important to everyone trying to understand (more…)

    STAYING ON TRACK: THE RED THREAD OF THE NARRATIVE

    December 1, 2012

    Tags: Beginnings, Red Thread, Telling the story, Writing process

    To stay on track, keep an eye on the red thread of your story. (Image via photos-public-domain.com)
    As my favorite literary parable suggests (see sidebar), telling the story of a life is a lot like carving an elephant from a block of stone. The "elephant" is the story of someone else's life in potentia, while the block of stone is the mass of unprocessed research in which the story is hiding. Here and in future posts, I want to discuss the creative process of rendering the elephant visible, not only to the eye of the reader but in the mind of the writer. (more…)

    • AN ELEPHANT IS A MOVING TARGET

    September 14, 2011

    Tags: Beginnings, Telling the story, Oline Eaton, Sara and Erskine (book)

    (Credit: Hayward Public Library)

      For me, nothing about writing biography is more difficult than remembering that I'm tracking the long, slow evolution of a human being. (Two human beings, actually: in a sense, Erskine is as important to SARA AND ERSKINE as Sara herself; maybe more, in some ways.) Which means that the elephant (more…)

      ARTICLE POSTING: "FINDING OUR VOICE'"

      July 26, 2011

      Tags: "Finding Our Voice" (article download), Sattareh Farman Farmaian, Telling the story, Voice

      "Voice" is the instrument with which a writer tells the story. For a biographer, as for other writers of narrative, feeling confident that one has found "the right voice" is vital for having the authority and conviction necessary to narrate the life story of another human being.

          But voice is hard to define. It's not (more…)


          The disciple of a famous sculptor came upon his master carving an elephant from a huge, shapeless chunk of stone. "Master," cried the disciple, "What splendor! What realism! What insight! How do you do it?" "Simple," replied the sculptor. "You just cut away everything that isn't elephant."

          Stalking the Elephant is a blog about creating an elephant from a chunk of stone, a.k.a. writing a biography.

          It's also about the biographer's writing life (well, mine, anyway) and a work in progress, SARA AND ERSKINE, AN AMERICAN ROMANCE. This is an intimate reconstruction of the life of SARA BARD FIELD, a World War One-era minister's wife, suffragist, and poet, and her extraordinary affair with an outspoken attorney, philosophical anarchist, and Renaissance man CHARLES ERSKINE SCOTT WOOD.

      Subscribing is easy.

          This couple takes up a lot of time (not to mention a lot of oxygen), and since I don't have a regular posting schedule, the best way to receive updates is to sign up to be notified when I post something new.

           Here's how: On the blog page, click on the RSS button of your browser. (In Firefox: Go to the Bookmarks menu and select "Subscribe to This Page.") You can then check to see if there's been an update in the RSS feed of your browser's toolbar.




      Visit the RESOURCES page and take advantage of a growing list of links, blogs, and books for anyone interested in biography and writing lives.


        Sidebar Photo Credit: Elephant Country Web


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