SHELFARI Generic Genre Questions: Biography
1. Questions about setting (time and place)
a. Does a man or woman make history, or does history make the man or woman? What aspects of the time period have a profound influence on the individual who is the subject of your biography? How does the individual influence the times?
b. Does a man or woman make history, or does history make the man or woman? What aspects of the region or nation have a profound influence on the individual who is the subject of your biography? How does your subject influence the environment?
2. Questions about characters
a. “Character, in my opinion, is always the starting point, but not necessarily the end, of biography. An interesting character, one who acts outside the norms of society but whose work or deeds survive to illuminate that society…” (Brightman).
What makes the subject of your biography noteworthy?
b. “…genuine curiosity about the subject is what keeps a biographer honest. You want to gaze at him or her from unexpected angles…” (Brightman)
What unexpected insights did you gain regarding the subject of your biography?
3. Questions about plot
a. “…construction of the past couldn’t be more different from the piling up of documentary fact and testimony” (Brightman).
How does the writer organize biography? By theme? Chronology? Influences?
b. “A GOOD biography keeps two elements in delicate balance: what they did, and why they did it” (Hughes).
Examine the “why” and comment on this in terms of the subject of your biography.
4. Questions about theme
a. “The only “logical reason for any biographer’s choice of subject … is admiration” (Wagner-Martin quoted in Brightman).
What does the writer admire about the person who is the subject of the book? What flaws are noted?
b. “John Updike decided to write these memoirs when he learned someone planned to write his biography” (French).
Consider theme when thinking about why someone would decide to tell the story of his life only when he heard that someone else planned to write about it.