Definition: Biography is a non fictional work describing the life, or part of the life, of an
individual. When the author is also the subject of the biography, the work is called an
autobiography. Biography is considered literature.
Relationship to historical fiction:
Biography and historical fiction complement each other. Where biography portrays the
individual, including mention of some of the features of the era; historical fiction portrays
the era, including mention of some specific individuals. Biography enriches understanding
of specific individuals; historical fiction enriches the context for biographies from the same
Approaches to biography (degree of authenticity):
Authentic biography -- attempts to convey the factual information of a person¹s life;
does not include any unsupported facts, facts supported by reliable research; rarely
includes dialogue--unless taken from letters or diaries or reliable personal
Fictionalized biography -- dramatizes events; creates dialogue and scenes to make
the story more interesting; good fictionalized biography will not creates scenes that
did not happen.
Biographical fiction -- pure fanciful invention with only passing regard to the
Forms of biography (coverage of a life):
Complete biographies -- a person¹s life from the cradle to the grave. These may be
brief and simple or long and complex.
Partial biographies -- focuses on a part or aspect of a person¹s life.
Collective biographies -- may be 1) brief biographical sketches of several people
with something in common; for example, scientists, First Ladies, sports figures,
musicians or 2) the weaving the biographies of several people into one story.
Evaluating (elements of) biographical writing:
Subject -- prior to the 20th century, biographical writings focused on and glorified
saints and royalty. Today, biographical writings focus on--and depict rather
realistically at times--any person the author chooses. The author chooses and relays
facts in a way to make the person interesting. In addition to learning more about the
person, a good biographical writing will allow you to learn more about people in
Accuracy -- good biography is accurate and authentic; fictionalized biography
conveys the essence of the character if not always the specific details of their life.
There should be no glaring omissions from the person¹s life that would distort the
readier¹s view or understanding of that person. can document evidence and research
upon which the writing is based. Endnotes, footnotes, bibliographies, and indexes
can be added to books intended for readers older than second grade.
Balance -- today, biographies are preferred which show the human side of people--
their errors in judgment, personality flaws, eccentric habits, etc.--balanced with the
Style -- even the most interesting information and be written in such a way that it is
dull and dry. Humor is utilized too little in biographical writings. Vocabulary and
sentence structure must match the needs of the intended reader.
Theme -- a biography without a theme is a loose collection of facts. Some
biographies are didactic.
Special characteristics of autobiography:
Autobiography is often much more informal than biography, for example, memoirs
Autobiographies often lack references and dates.
Autobiographies can be quite biased in representation and coverage.
Few autobiographies are written for children.