More on writing a biography
Published: July 30, 2010
|In a Step by Step article about writing a biography in the September 2010 issue of The Writer, Mary McVicker offered a process for deciding on a subject and giving your manuscript interest and shape. She is the author of The Secret of Belle Meadow; Adela Breton: A Victorian Artist Amid Mexico's Ruins; Women Adventurers: 1750 to 1900; and numerous articles. Following is her Before and After sidebar.|
BEFORE AND AFTER
In my biography of Adela Breton, I first experimented with a traditional beginning. That had some potential with a subject familiar to readers, but many of my potential readers did not know the name Adela Breton. Their reaction to that beginning was likely to be "Who cares?" and to close the book.
Adela Breton was born in London on the last day of 1849. Soon after she was born her parents moved to Bath, England, which was her home for the rest of her life. Bath was a very old city; centuries earlier it was a Roman city, and there were remains of earlier people around Bath. It was a good place to live if you were interested in archeology and old things—“antiquities,” as they were called. Her father was interested in almost everything, but especially archeology and geology. He and his interests were a big influence on Adela.
It occurred to me that a flashback might be a more compelling start. I decided to begin with the high point of her life to arouse people’s curiosity so they’d keep reading. This is the opening of the book as published:
Getting to the ruins of Chichén Itzá in 1900 was a rugged proposition. As intriguing as the stories were of the overgrown Maya ruins and pyramids in the jungle, Yucatan was not a tourist destination. But then, Adela Breton was not a tourist. Far from it. She was at Chichén to work.
She was 50 years old, an age where most men and women at that time were settled and perhaps slowing down, their major work having been accomplished.