Where to Begin a Story

It’s the toughest initial decision for me when I set out to write something new. Where should the story begin? And, truly, it’s a dilemma for all genres, fiction and nonfiction. The latter is my current focus.

As we all know, biography is the story of a person’s life. Some people suggest that picture book biographies should remain chronological, beginning with birth or childhood and ending before the subject’s death. Having studied hundreds of titles, I don’t believe in hard and fast “rules.” There are as many styles as there are authors.

As a writer of picture book biographies, my openings are very different. I’ve started in the middle of a scene, at birth, and at mid-childhood. I think each of them works.

Ultimately, we have to try on different openings until we find the one that fits our story and compels a young reader to keep turning the page. It’s an organic decision tied to the overall theme, voice, and focus.

Remember that not all picture book biographies are aimed at the same audience. There are books for ages 4-8 which tend to be simpler. And those aimed at ages 9-11 which are most often longer, include more context and subtext, and a more creative literary style. AND, not all biographies for young readers cover a full life. Sometimes, it’s a set chunk of someone’s life.

Let’s not forget that writing is art and the author can and should think outside the box when appropriate.