The very first biography

What do we know about the first biography ever communicated? Actually, not anything!

It wasn’t written, but simply conveyed from one human to another in some primitive spoken, drawn, or sign-language format.

It might have been two cave people telling their individual stories around a campfire. Or it could have been in memorial form…a tribe speaking about another tribesman who had passed away.

Whatever the case, we think it contained three elements: (a) the person’s ancestry, life chronology, and progeny; (b) the person’s skill or specialty; (c) how other tribespeople can benefit from knowing that person.

In the many centuries since then, we’ve made entire professions out of history, biography, and sociology, which give us a better understanding about human nature and the complexities of society.

But what interests me most is an often upspoken element: what special message can each of our life stories provide to others?

The secret: Each time you read a biography or a memoir, ask yourself what special message that person has left for future generations.

Chronology or memoir?

If somebody asked you to write a biography tomorrow, how would would begin?

Most of the ones I’ve read begin in one of three main ways. They are (a) chronology, (b) flashback, or (c) memoir.

The chronology begins on the day the main character was born, and follows her forward through her life. There’s no skipping forward or backward. It’s kinda like writing by following a calendar. There’s no rewind.

A flashback might start with an award being received or an accomplishment celebrated. Then, the story flashes back to earlier events in the person’s life than brought him to that high point. (I’ve seen many movies use that technique.)

A memoir is typically episodic. It often skips around, discussing major events that affected the person’s life. To me, it’s the most entertaining to read. It allows the writer the freedom to move forward, backward, or anywhere in the person’s life that provides entertainment or makes a point.

Take a look at Rix’s new book: How to Sell Ideas With the Minute Message.