Dreaming of my subject’s life

Back in December I crafted an outline, detailed table of contents, and sample chapter for the Hazel Rowley Prize offered by Biographers’ International. It was an extremely useful exercise for a variety of reasons but, perhaps it’s needless to say, I didn’t win the prize. While I was moderately disappointed, by the time the decision was made (sometime in April?) I was already well on the road to rethinking my proposal’s contents. It so happens that the night I submitted my materials I had a terribly vivid dream about my subject. In my dream, not only was he alive and well, but his workshop was located within the confines of a beached submarine that I had the pleasure of touring.  With my subject as my guide, he showed me around the place, pointing out this or that invention he was working on.  When the conversation turned towards the biography that I’m working on he said I was hitting all the right points, but that it was dull – his life had been full of adventure and that I needed to show it! When I awoke I was fired up to change things, but how?

The following week I attended my monthly writers’ group and after a vigorous discussion on theme, one of my colleagues recommended that we check out 20 Master Plots and How To Build Them as a group and report back the plots that best suited our subjects. This was a revelatory exercise and now after much thinking, have decided to divide my subject’s life into three separate “stories” each with their own distinct themes, hooks, plot points, and resolutions. While this may seem odd for the biographer to consider the subject’s life as a series of “master plots”,  it’s really the only device that I can think of to get over the hurdles of having not enough primary source material in certain areas and describing a life that had truly distinct phases.

For more on what is influencing my thinking please check out Story Engineering and Story Physics – both by Larry Brooks. The author also has a mind-blowing blog called Story Fix – that’s exactly what it and these two books do – fix the problems with your story. Though I don’t have a “story” yet, these two books have completely devastated me (in a good way)!  Brooks’ perspective on structure and the “necessaries” of scene are marvelous but his explantion of the “big picture” is truly illuminating . Whatever you are writing – be it fiction or non – you need to consult these just for the thoughts they provoke.




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