Sunday, February 2, 2020

No Man--Or Woman--Is an Island

By Beth Anderson


Thank you for the invitation to be a part of NF Fest with a post about writing biographies! But wait a minute—I don’t write biographies. The word conjures up the idea of names and dates marching along a timeline, a narrow, distant story of a life.

Technically, my two released picture books and most of what I’ve got coming down the publishing pipeline are not biographies. But, to my surprise, my local library shelved An Inconvenient Alphabet as a Webster bio, and I would bet Lizzie Demands a Seat will sit on the bio shelf, too. So, I’ll just go with this idea of “non-typical” bios...

What I’ve gone after have been events, relationships, and issues I care about. I don’t approach a story as one person’s life. After all, “no man is an island,” right? I’m interested in how people affect others and respond to their world.


As I began to navigate my nonfiction journey, my first AHA! came when I heard Barb Rosenstock talk about the “so what?” Then Candy Fleming explained the “vital idea.” Like theme? No. Deeper, more personal. It springs from the author’s connection with the story, their unique perspective and personal investment. It’s what lingers after the story is done. In my quest to get a handle on this, I asked others to share their process of identifying and carrying that special thread through the story. Different people use different terms—I call it heart. (blog series “Mining for Heart”) To me, this is the key to an engaging “bio.”

“Heart” is the treasure I’m after when I descend into the research rabbit hole. When I began researching Tad Lincoln and the presidential turkey pardon, I found a tender father-and-son story that made me laugh out loud. Further digging brought an even more special way to frame the story. Every time I go after an idea, I find much more behind it—and that’s where the heart emerges.

Here are some of my thoughts on creating a “non-typical biography” or, as in my case, “not-technically a biography.” 

•    Get ready. I’ve learned that it pays to have a system for organizing information before I dive in so I can capture my scattered ideas and all the brain pops. (HERE’s a post on my system if you’d like more info.)

•    Go after context. Immerse yourself in setting. Actions and words can have different meanings in another time and place. Read widely for the big picture. Don’t limit yourself to the pages listed for an entry in an index; peruse the intros and conclusions of sources to gain insight—those are the spots where authors look at the big picture and make connections.

•    Gather facts and details for text and illustrations. Embed the setting using specifics—but beware of information dumps. Don’t just look through the eyes of history, look through the eyes of the characters and let the reader experience the setting and conflicts along with the characters.

•    Get to know your characters. Being the first to do something isn’t important in and of itself. The significance is in the why and how and what it means for kids today. (more in a blog post HERE) Knowing your characters well allows you to more effectively use point of view to bring readers along on the emotional journey. Quotes provide a great window into character. (more in a blog post HERE) Look at your characters’ actions and relationships, how others reacted to them, and what contemporaries said about them. Dig into their internal conflicts, motivation, stakes, hopes, and fears. Crawl inside their minds and write journal entries as characters. While facts and details are important and interesting, it’s the larger human truths that connect to readers.

•    The picture book format requires focus—no room for an entire life. The main question to ask is “What do I need to carry my ‘heart’ thread through the story?” Lizzie Demands a Seat begins with action and the main event, whereas “Smelly” Kelly and His Super Senses (fall 2020) needed a bit of childhood for set up. Cut loose anything that doesn’t tighten that “heart” thread woven through the story, and consider those extras for back matter.

“Heart” isn’t found IN the research, but evolves FROM the research when we process it through our own experience. When I found Ben Franklin’s quote, “Those people spell best who do not know how to spell,” I understood it as a teacher. “Those people” were kids. With that twist in meaning, I was onto the heart of An Inconvenient Alphabet. But Elizabeth Jennings’ story took much longer. I had a growing sense of the heart, but couldn’t nail it down. “Heart” can be nebulous, elusive, downright torture to tackle. But I believe that’s what makes your manuscript sing and become more than “just another bio.”

I think the reason I didn’t like history as a child is that history had lost the story—the struggle of people finding their way in the world. Instead of the typical biography ABOUT a person’s life that “feeds” readers information, the non-typical bio allows the reader INSIDE the person’s life. When children can see themselves in someone, they’re able to experience new perspectives and ways of thinking. 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Beth Anderson loves digging into history and culture for undiscovered gems. A former educator who has always marveled at the power of books, she is drawn to stories that open minds, touch hearts, and inspire questions. Born and raised in Illinois, she now lives in Loveland, Colorado. Author of AN INCONVENIENT ALPHABET (S&S 2018) and LIZZIE DEMANDS A SEAT! (Boyds Mills & Kane, 2020), Beth has more historical gems on the way. 

Website: www.BethAndersonwriter.com
Twitter and Pinterest: @BAndersonWriter
Facebook   https://www.facebook.com/beth.anderson.33671748



ABOUT THE PRIZE

Beth is offering a picture book manuscript critique (ms up to 1200 words).

Leave one comment below about what struck you in the post.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered NF Fest participant and you have contributed one comment below.

260 comments:

  1. the fact that bios need not be straightforward- timely for what I am working on - a "bio" of a group of individuals from our country in the 1940's to show social history, women's history etc.

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  2. Thank you, Beth! I typically hand write "found treasure" from blog posts into my journal, but there is so much here to contemplate, that I am compelled to print the whole posting and highlight my way through it. The phrase I will think on today, as I sit at my writing desk, is..."---and that's where the heart emerges."

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  3. I am speechless. You are amazing! Thank you so so much for those advices!!!! I LOVE your system for organizing! Thank you for sharing!!!!

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  4. All I can say is WOW! Thank you for all your wonderful information. The idea of people’s struggle finding their way in the world - such a great way of looking at a non-typical bio. But it is mostly finding the “heart.” Thank you for sharing.

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  5. Thank you for putting so much "heart" into your post. It is deeply helpful and encouraging as I struggle to find the "heart" in my stories. I'm struck by the takeaway, "'Heart' isn’t found IN the research, but evolves FROM the research when we process it through our own experience."

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  6. Those dates marching down a timeline was exactly why I didn't particularly like history as a kid. I do love it now because of the context, relationships, connections, and heart. Thank you for this incredibly thoughtful and helpful post.

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  8. Oh, Beth, what a great post. I will have to print this one and follow the links later. Just finished LIZZIE last week. Gonna read again as a mentor text. My fave line out of this is, "Don’t just look through the eyes of history, look through the eyes of the characters and let the reader experience the setting and conflicts along with the characters." TY.

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  9. Love your strategy for researching/gathering information!

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  10. Great gems. Wonderful advice. Thank you.

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  11. It is all about heart! I, too, did not like history as a child - but if you can retell a story with enough heart then it would engage a child. As you said, “when children can see themselves in someone they’re able to experience new perspectives and ways of thinking.” So true!

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  12. Thanks for the tip in organizing thoughts and research.

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  13. "“Heart” isn’t found IN the research, but evolves FROM the research when we process it through our own experience." Yes! I think this is the hardest part, too. It's so easy to get bogged down in fun facts and fascinating tangents that the heart seems to get easily buried. I LOVE your link to your post on "organization optimization"-bookmarking for my next manuscript. Thank you! -Sara Ackerman

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  14. This is great -- I think you've really hit on what's been missing from the pb bios I've attempted. So much to follow up on! Thx--

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  15. This is such helpful advice about really finding the meat of your story! Thank you!

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  16. Love your advice on focus and finding the heart of the person's life. Very useful advice, thank you!

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  17. Thank you for providing such detail about setting up non-typical bios. This was a terrific post.

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  18. Thanks for the advice. Telling people's stories is one thing I really want to do. I look forward to checking out the links here.

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  19. Loved hearing that heart -- which I focus on in fiction -- is just as important in NonFiction.

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  20. Beth, thank you, thank you, thank you! You have helped me so much in thinking about the non-typical PB bio I'm working on. Just two days into Nonfictionfest, something as become clear to me. To paraphrase a line from Jaws, "I'm going to need a bigger notebook!":)

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  21. "I think the reason I didn’t like history as a child is that history had lost the story—the struggle of people finding their way in the world." - YES! This is what I told my son just yesterday, as we were talking about how much more interesting a subject is when you get to know the people (and story!) behind it.

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  22. Thank you for this excellent post and the links to other excellent posts! Now, I have some key things to think about with one of my own manuscripts.

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  23. Wow! What a great post. Such informative and useful advice. Thank for sharing!

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  24. Wonderful post with great tips. Thank you.

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  25. Thank you so much for the great tips! I especially appreciate reading about your organization system. I will need to reread and follow the other links. So much wonderful info!

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  26. I connected with "seeing the world through your character's eyes". It makes sense. Thanks for your post.

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  27. Thank you for that crucial perspective on finding the heart of the matter. I have over 600 pages of research and 1,200 footnotes of sources on Frederick and Anna Douglass' life and times. "All" of them speak to me, not so much to readers in my writing group who struggle wading through what seems like a bunch of notes. It is my job to find the heart in them, spell it out it clearly and keep the rest as backmatter. Very useful topic!

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  28. Beth, thank you for sharing your method for organizing each project. I have always thought that this aspect of nf daunting but you have given me a great way to start.

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  29. Get to know the character - being first isn't important by itself, the significance is the why and how and what it means to kids.

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  30. Such a wonderful post, full of great tips for those of us looking into the world of NF.

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  31. Thanks for the links to organization blog. That extra information was helpful too.

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  32. A perfect synopsis to help me with a couple of books and a newspaper article I'm writing - it is the focus not the entire story.

    Thank you!

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  33. Terrific tips especially carrying your heart thread throughout the story and looking through the eyes of the characters! If only these non-typical bios existed when I was a kid, history classes won't have been so colorless.

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  34. Thanks for the post. Great tips on finding "the heart" and context of the story.

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  35. The caution regarding info dumps is always a relevant one. Thanks for your thorough post.

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  36. I appreciate your emphasis on focus and finding the heart. Thank you!

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  37. I appreciate your emphasis on the need to cut and focus the information. :)

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  38. Finding the heart and getting rid of the rest. I always try that, but I haven't reached the stage where I can do it nearly as well as you do. Thank you for this inspiration. I am going back to my plethora of notes and looking to see what pops out at me. Thank you again!

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  39. I don't write biography but a lot of what you say applies to writing about other topics, too. And all of it explains why I love reading memoirs of ordinary folks so much!

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  40. I love biographies and "non-typical biographies." Thank you, Beth, for sharing your insights and process with us. I'll aim to "look through the eyes of the character" and find the "why and how and what it means for kids today."

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  41. Thank you for your specifics here, and the links to even more information! This is really helpful!

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    1. Oops-hit post too soon! I love the digging for the heart, and looking at a life through many lenses to figure out how to focus and craft a biography.

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  42. Thank you, Beth! The links to your other articles was very helpful as well.

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  43. No matter where they are shelved, your books are terrific! Thanks for the tips Beth.

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  44. "Vital idea", "writing from the heart", to me, all equal passion. If one does not have passion about the chosen subject or topic for a book, it will likely no resonate. Thanks, Beth, for your insight. All the best to continued writing success. Thanks for all you do for your readers!

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  45. So helpful and I will come back to this. Especially like your reminder that the picture book format needs focus, there is no room for an entire life!

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  46. Thank you, Beth, for sharing your writing process. Non-fiction is presently not a genre I write, but much of what you wrote would work for other genres. You've given me a new way to process my characters, through their eyes.

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  47. The line "I'm interested in how people affect others and respond to their world" stands out for me as a guideline.

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  48. I'm always looking for ways to add heart to my nonfiction, so thank you for this post! It's very helpful. I also appreciate the link to your blog post on spiral organization. That's definitely worth a try!

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  49. Thank you - your post is encouraging. The research of a topic can be so overwhelming and I thought how you explained searching for the heart as it connects to the reader became clearer in my mind. And, I loved how you organized a notebook! Looking forward to tomorrow’s post...

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  50. Looking for the heart. So true.
    Kelly

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  51. Thank you! I love the idea that heart is found through the research!

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  52. Thank you for these important tips, Beth. I think focusing on the heart of the story is a great way of avoiding drowning in details and research.

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  53. Thank you for the extra links - I'm going to have to figure out if I'm going to bookmark or print them all out for future reference! (Because I have to be told things many, MANY times!)

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  54. I'm always tempted to put everything I've learned in the story. Heart is the key.

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  55. Your post is chock full of great information. When I was a history researcher for interpretive signage, I always said that history should be taught through actions of a group of people at the time because it would be much easier for kids to remember these events and how they tie into that point in history. Thank you! Can't wait to go to all your links!

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  56. Thank you, Beth, for sharing your organization system. It is certainly something that I struggle with as well. Finding the "Heart" is absolutely not in the research as you state. Finding that nugget of information to pull out is key to that research. Thanks for the blog post links, those will come in handy.

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  57. I found the strategies for organizing especially useful.

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  58. I can not thank you enough for this post. As an educator today, I'm on the lookout for way to engage my students and build empathy and your post has reminded me that biographies can do that!

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  59. I don’t even know where to begin thanking you for this post! I feel like I just had a semester of priceless and useful information downloaded into my brain! So grateful you took time to add links to other material, especially on finding the heart and organization. I’ve spent over two hours working through this post and the links and taking notes. Most of all, though, my inner child was jumping up and down saying “Yes! This is the kind of history I wanted to read.” I will reread these notes and channel that inner child with each new project. Thank you, Ms.Anderson, and thank you NFFest!!

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  60. I love that Beth references Barb’s “so what” and Candy’s “vital idea.” I’ve been critiqued by both wonderful writers and carry those two concepts with me always!

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  61. Heart "revolves FROM the research." A great tip going forward.

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  62. Love the idea of focusing on what your subject means for kids today.

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  63. Like you, I wasn't a history person either. You nailed the reason. The way I was taught was devoid of story and context. I really appreciate your approach and your willingness to share.

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  64. Thank you for sharing so much helpful information!

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  65. Thank you for the info. I was also bored by history that was a recitation of dates and facts. Stories with HEART are what appeal. Totally agree!

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  66. So many wonderful ideas explored in this post. Thank-you! I was especially drawn to the quote "Heart is the treasure I'm after when I descend into the research rabbit hole." It captures so beautifully that the motivations for writing and pursuing our research projects is a humanistic endeavor, the forging of human connections and bonds.

    Celia Viramontes

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  67. Love this. I have been struggling through a pb bio manuscript to find the heart. Thanks for validating the need.

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  68. I also love when I can connect to history through story. Thank you for your post!

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  69. Thank you, Beth. It really is about the heart, isn't it? We think about the heart of the story so often in fiction, but it's vital for our biographies as well. Loved what you said about the emotional journey of our characters--their internal conflicts, motivation, stakes, hopes and fears. Children connect with the struggle of "finding their way in the world." Brava!

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  70. Thanks Beth for wonderful isights. I'm intrigued with the idea of writing journal posts as your main character.

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  71. I really enjoyed this post and its emphasis on heart, Beth. So essential for connecting with the reader!

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  72. I enjoyed your post. It was very helpful in understanding the world of nonfiction. I also found your blog interview/entry from Rita Lorraine Hubbard on illustrative notes very enlightening. Thanks

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  73. So many supplemental pieces to check out on this post that I'll definitely be diving into.

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  74. "Like theme? No. Deeper, more personal. It springs from the author’s connection with the story, their unique perspective and personal investment." Love this heart and inspiration you've given us today. Your tips and links have added fuel to my research capabilities. Thank you!

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  75. Love the idea of the non-typical bio allowing the reader inside the person's life. Thanks, Beth!
    Susan Latta

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  76. My kids’ favorite teachers were the ones who told stories... I like the idea of a biography that focuses on a story instead of facts and dates.

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  77. I love your reminder that the picture book format requires focus, so a PB bio isn't a big picture story but a close-up of the person. Thanks for all the great tips, and the links, and it's helpful to see how you organize your research!

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  78. As one who has taught American history in middle school, I can so relate to your post about younger people not liking history. Most middle school students dislike history class and for precisely the reason you mentioned (dry facts, timelines, etc). When my students discovered the stories about the people creating our history, it became more meaningful and resonated with them. Introducing students to (his)story as well as to herstory is key to engaging young minds! Thank you for your well-thought out post and useful links - Priscilla

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  79. I love your connection that finding the heart of the story is what makes it engaging. Thank you, Beth, for sharing your tips to find the focusing heart line.

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  80. Excellent strategy suggestions and insight into your process. Gives me a lot to think about. Thank you.

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  81. Thank you so much for your post. It's so important to remember to look for the heart of the story.

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  82. Such great advice, Beth. I love your explanation of how a picture book requires focus and heart.

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  83. SO much info here, thanks, Beth! The best stories have heart, I think, but we tend to forget that component with NF, don't we? Thanks for the reminder!

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    1. Yes! My critique partner told me I need to make my current WIP read more like a story with heart and less like a book report. Working on it! :) See you next month at WIK.

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  84. I love this discussion of unconventional biographies-- that's a great name for them. I love An Inconvenient Alphabet; we all learned something reading it.

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  85. Thank you for this post! I'm looking forward to following all the links you've included.

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  86. Hi Beth! The timing of your post couldn't have been better - I find myself in a similar situation, with two ideas for non-biography biographies. Your advice will really help guide my research. Thank you!

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  87. Congratulations on your Non Typical Bios, Beth! I love your idea for organizing one notebook per manuscript. It must make it so much easier to find what you need! Thanks for sharing!

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  88. I loved the distinction between typical biographies, encompassing all of a life, and the non-typical ones, with a piece of the life but the heart of the issue. And thanks as well for the link to your system — that was helpful.

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  89. The “heart” is sometimes hard for me to find, or hard for me to express. But it’s what a reader will connect with! So important in an NF PB. Great article!

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  90. Thank you, Beth. I love the idea of writing journal entries as characters!

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  91. Love the idea of allowing the reader inside the subject's life--thanks for the great tips on finding the heart of a book.

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  92. There is a month's worth of great information in this one post! After reading it, I went right to your link about the spiral notebook. Although a three-ring binder has been my organizational method of choice, I've never come up with consistently useful categories. Your list makes so much sense. I will definitely be making a tab for each category you suggest for my next writing project. Thank you!

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  93. I like to write about science concepts, and less about people, however I think there is a heart to find in every story, now that I understand it by Beth Anderson's definition. It's the part of the story that connects the reader to their world and gets them excited about finding more connections between the science and their lives.

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  94. Your system to organize for each book looks like something I can handle. :) It's not technology dependent, which I appreciate. Organization isn't my strong point. You also gave me an idea for cutting the words I need to for my current NF manuscript. I'm going to try and narrow the focus to the period of time most important to this particular story. Thanks for the suggestions, and for the chance to win a critique! :)

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  95. I have found it difficult to keep track of which pieces of information came from which sources when I am writing, so I am especially interested in your organizing notebook. It would be fun to actually see one of those notebooks.

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  96. There were so many gems in this article! And links to lots of other great articles with even more information. I have already printed out the instructions for organizing data. What I love about this is the emphasis on finding the heart and writing with the perspective of weaving the heard threads through the story to decide which information stays and goes. Thank you for the great information!
    -Rebecca Blankinship

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  97. This point resonated with me (as it did with others): “Heart” isn’t found IN the research, but evolves FROM the research when we process it through our own experience. And...it might be time to buy another spiral notebook!

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  98. WOW, such a jam packed post. Thanks for all the info and extra links!

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  99. Well-said, Beth. I appreciate your advice. Not the easiest thing to do!

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  100. I love this post. I'm currently digging and digging through research. I've found potential threads, but so far, I've not found the one that feels the "softest," seems the "strongest" and has the touch of sparkle that really catches my eye. ;) Thanks for the post. I'm heading back into the books with your message and tips fresh in my mind!

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  101. I like your system for organizing.

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  102. I like the idea of non-traditional bio. How is it classified or marketed. As historical fiction or nonfiction? I have a first person account of a person using her quotes as well as my words. What would that be considered?

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  103. This is such a good point: "Being the first to do something isn’t important in and of itself. The significance is in the why and how and what it means for kids today." I need to focus on this! Thanks for sharing!

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  104. This was the perfect post for me to read today! Thank you for your perspective and suggestions! Like the song says (Damn Yankees), "You gotta have heart!"

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  105. I love the idea of a non-traditional biography and the need to bring the story into the history.

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  106. So true about finding the "heart"...I am fascinated by many people but getting to the heart of what will make them fascinating to others takes work and time.

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  107. I find that heart comes to me when I find a fact that really sings. Something that I find so amazing that I want to tell the whole world about it. When I focus on that fact, the whole picture book comes together.
    Thank you Beth!

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  108. Great post, thank you! Love your organizational strategies!

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  109. Jeanette Koscheski I liked, "quotes provide a great window on character."

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  110. I'm excited to set up my notebook and read with a focus on finding the heart thread to pull through my story. Thanks for all the extra links as well. Lots of useful information!

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  111. Thank you for this post. I love biographies, especially the little jewels I find written about people not traditionally covered in publishing.

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  112. Your notebook system sounds like just what the doctor ordered for my next research project. Thanks for sharing it here!

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  113. I love that “heart isn’t found IN the research, but evolves FROM the research". It's finding that special gem that makes a story sing!

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  114. Thank you for the post and links to blogs.

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  115. Great post, Beth - and thanks for the links. I think the reason I didn't like history as a kid was because the "story" had been cut to the bare bones of fact. But I loved it when a teacher said "imagine you were there - what would your life be like?" because, THEN, we got into the story...

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  116. Your wealth of info Beth was amazing - THANK YOU. I related to your comment about why you didn't like history as a child. Inside life is where the story is;) Be Inspired, Nicki Jacobsmeyer

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  117. "Bring the reader alongside your character, to experience what they have felt and done as they react to the world around them...." This is what spoke to me. I always wonder about how an author crafts the story that can draw me in and make me feel like I am there, right alongside the character. It's magical.

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  118. So much helpful information! I too love the research and find myself buried with interesting stories, information, facts, quotes etc. I love your idea of a spiral notebook but may adapt it to a binder so I can add as needed. I also love your encouragement to focus on relationships/specific events that highlight the heart of the "story" rather than detailing a person's life from birth to death. Thanks for taking time to share your insights.

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  119. This post is packed with rich resource material. Thank you so much for including additional posts to aid this wonderful presentation. I'm thinking we need an actual webinar on this post. I thank you so much.

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  120. The heart is the hardest part to find in a story - especially when you are drowning in too much informations - and even when you're not! Thank you for the links to all the wonderful resources. Struggling with several nf narratives right now and hopefully these will inspire me to find my way to the hearts of those stories!

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  121. So much to take from this wonderful post! A system for organizing research! Looking at how our subject was viewed by their contemporaries! Finding the heart! Thanks for this great post!

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  122. Great info! So helpful. Thank you for sharing!

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  123. Thank you for an excellent post full of helpful suggestions. I appreciated the links to other blogs and references which added another layer of richness to the post. I intend to try your method to organize research notes. Thanks for sharing so much of your heart.

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  124. Great suggestions! I love the PBs require focus. Choose the thread you want to focus on, cut loose the rest. Perfect advice. Thank you!

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  125. I love your notebook organizing system. I agree that being the first to do something isn't always what's important about a person's life and what it means to children today.

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  126. Thank you, Beth, for many outstanding tips and thoughts for creating a nonfiction story with heart.

    It is important for writers to understand the heart of a nonfiction story is not in the research.

    Suzy Leopold

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  127. So much wonderful information about the "heart" of a non-typical biography! Very helpful!

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  128. Thank you for all the extra links and close look into your process.

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  129. Great tips in here. And now I’m gonna read your blog post about your organization system. Thank you.

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  130. You've shared a treasure trove of important information especially your method of organizing a spiral notebook and how to find words used by someone to gather personality thoughts. Thank you, Beth Anderson!

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  131. I love your system for organizing information as you explore the rabbit holes. Thank you! I'm off to buy a spiral!

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  132. What jumped out at me in your post is to ask how the character's story is relevant and meaningful to children today. I think this may be my "way in" to find the heart in my biographical WIP. There's much to explore in this element alone. Thank you.

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  133. It seems the "heart" is what drives your subjects to do or be what they are known for. It is what also makes the book interesting to readers.

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  134. This is a genre I really want to explore. When I wrote papers for history classes I always loved finding the “little” stories in my subject’s lives. I love the idea in Beth’s text that a typical biography is about someone’s life and a non-typical one is about inside someone’s life. I love those inside stories.

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  135. My favorite line of this post was "“Heart” isn’t found IN the research, but evolves FROM the research." This is so important to remember. You have to trust the process and know that "heart" will emerge!

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  136. "Cut loose anything that doesn't tighten that 'heart' thread". I will keep that close as I revise my pb bio. Thanks so much for this helpful info, Beth.

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  137. Beth, there were so many components of this post that hit home, but my favorite was “Heart” isn’t found IN the research, but evolves FROM the research when we process it through our own experience. Thank you for so many gems, and the links you provided are gold mines!

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  138. Love this line: "'Heart' isn’t found IN the research, but evolves FROM the research when we process it through our own experience." So often I feel I have to know the heart of a story to begin, but so often it's discovered as part of the process. I'm going to tape this on my desk!

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  139. Wow! How informative and heart-full. Thank you so much. I'll be processing all of your guidance for a good while.

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  140. This statement, “Being the first to do something isn’t important in and of itself. The significance is in the why and how and what it means for kids today,” is repeating itself in my head. I’m currently struggling with the exact angle and episode to recount in my Pb bio WIP. By contemplating this, I’m starting to see more clearly a possibility for this story. Thank you!

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  141. Beth, this is a treasure trove of vital biography advice. Certainly the HEART is often missing in a traditional bio; I will keep these points handy. Thanks!

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  142. This is great advice. I think I have got to get more organized and keep track of my sources.

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  143. Thank you, Beth for all the extra links. I love this line: "Crawl inside their minds and write journal entries as characters." I agree that heart and universal truths are key.

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  144. The idea that a picture book biography needs to do more than just tell a person's life story is something I have to keep reminding myself. It's so easy to get bogged down with dates and facts. As a journalist, I find myself falling into that trap a lot. As a journalist, I also know how important it is to have an angle rather than try to cover an entire subject. Makes for a more satisfying read. Thank you for this post!

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  145. Thanks! I especially appreciate what you said about heart.

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  146. I really liked knowing that heart has to be in every story regardless if it's nonfiction or not.

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  147. There are lots of great nuggets here, Beth--I've flagged this post and will return to it. And I think that capturing the "thing that lingers" is what sets a great book apart from just a good book.

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  148. This is all so true. I never checked out nonfiction picture books because I remembered how nonfiction was so dry and boring when I was younger. Not until ReFoReMo last year did I see authors' are presenting nonfiction concepts now as interesting and relatable. I think creating that heart connection allows the reader to feel the message of the story rather than telling events.
    -Ashley Congdon

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  149. Thanks for your insight on finding the heart of the story. It makes so much sense. What a challenge!

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  150. Beth,

    This was brilliant! Thanks for sharing your expertise, esp about organization and heart, just love that. I was the same, I loved historical fiction, but hated biographies because they were boring. I love how PB make it so much more accessible and entertaining.

    Kaitlyn Sanchez

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  151. Great post. I love the reminder to cultivate a personal connection with the material. That's where the magic happens...

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  152. "The non typical bio allows the reader inside the person's life." This post helped me to think about how to help a reader see themselves in a bio, without just spewing facts. Every person has multiple stories to tell, and finding and sharing the heart that "evolves" from the research is the goal, and prize, for both writer and reader.

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  153. This is a wonderful post with many pearls of wisdom. The line that struck me most was "While facts and details are important and interesting, it’s the larger human truths that connect to readers." It's all in service to the story. As E.M. Forster wrote, "Only connect."

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  154. Thank you for your great input on NF! I like how you said "how people effect others and respond to their world."
    Exactly.
    Well said!

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  155. Thanks for reminding us not to get lost in the research but to get to the heart of the story that we want to share. Thanks too for sharing your post on organizing information.

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  156. A great post. I love learning about 'history' through the 'story'. Looking forward to learning more about how to do that honestly, in an interesting way, to make things come alive for kids.

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  157. What great suggestions, Beth! Heart is what makes a book special. Thank you!

    Sara Petersohn

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  158. What great suggestions, Beth! Heart is what makes a book special. Thank you!

    Sara Petersohn

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  159. Beth, I love this: "the non-typical bio allows the reader INSIDE the person’s life." Mac Barnett has said that he doesn't like PB biographies because he doesn't think you can distill a person's life for a PB. (Actually, I think he said that he doesn't like biographies, in general.) But strangely enough, I think he did this with his book about MWB. And strangely enough, I think he'd agree with your statement about allowing the reader into the subject's life. Your other statement, that “'Heart' isn’t found IN the research, but evolves FROM the research when we process it through our own experience," rings so true for me. I think the nugget that is often called the "hook" is what can sometimes be mistaken for the heart. But the true heart is the connection that the writer makes with the subject, and sometimes that includes the "nugget" and sometimes it doesn't. I'm not sure if I'm making sense. It's late on the weekend, and my brain cells have deserted me, LOL. Thank you for your post!

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  160. Finding the "heart" can be so hard, even with a good subject! I agree history in school never had the context it needed to be really interesting (for me!) and that's why I think I like working on NF.

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  161. Thanks, Beth. Your rich post with helpful links gives us an understanding of your process and why it's so successful. Congratulations on your books. Heart is the element that makes them memorable.

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  162. I loved your mention of heart coming out of the research, not in the process of doing it. Hoping to link in to your post on organizational process as well. Thanks for sharing (and hopefully the next time I am "home" visiting family in Windsor and Ft. Collins, I'll get a chance to meet you!).

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  163. Great, helpful post! I was afraid your organization system might involve some computer program that I’d struggle with, but a spiral notebook—I can do that! Thanks so much.

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  164. This was a very insightful post. Thank you so much. I agree with why you did not like history as a child. I felt the same and only connected when I read The Little House series.

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  165. Thank you for this helpful post and providing the links for even more information. I have three biographies I'm working on so this is super helpful.

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  166. I love your perceptive insights into what captures our imaginations, and hearts, in the stories of history. Thanks so much for sharing, Beth! I've bookmarked and printed this out!

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  167. Thanks for the insights for finding heart. Your observation about how history loses the story (when it is nothing but facts) resonated with me.

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  168. comment - I like what you said about how heart evolves FROM the research when we process it through our own experience.
    Trine Grillo

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  169. I loved the entire post, Beth, but what stood out were two things: "Crawl inside their minds and write journal entries," and "non typical bios allow readers inside the person's life." I'll be printing this one out.

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  170. Great post! Such helpful advice! Especially your quote that “Heart” isn’t found IN the research, but evolves FROM the research when we process it through our own experience.

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  171. Fantastic post! Thanks for all the links, too!

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  172. I will read this post over and over. Wow. "While facts and details are important and interesting, it’s the larger human truths that connect to readers." This quote affirms my starting point for a story - what do I connect to? If I connect, maybe others will. And it's never the dry stuff that draws me in!

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  173. Sheila Lynch-AfrylFebruary 3, 2020 at 8:31 AM

    This post is a great reminder about focusing a story on heart. And thanks for the additional resources.

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  174. Every word of this is true for those writing fiction as well as nonfiction. Find the heart of your story and focus using it. Place the readers in the story with the characters. Brilliant.

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  175. What a great reminder! And thank you for the additional links.

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  176. What a wonderful post, and I like all the links you provided, especially the post on Organization Optimization. It's so helpful.
    Thanks, Beth.

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  177. I love this definition of the non-typical bio as one that "allows the reader inside the subject's life." That's so much more appealing than being fed emotionless information. Thank you!

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  178. I love your post so much! From your line: "'Heart' is the treasure I’m after when I descend into the research rabbit hole." to "The main question to ask is “What do I need to carry my ‘heart’ thread through the story?” Brilliant! And, then you totally had me at "history had lost the story" when talking about why you didn't like history in school. I felt the exact same way. Nothing worse than a list of dates and facts with no heart, and that's what I got in high school. Thanks for posting this!

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  179. Going with the heart is always on the top of my list because I always want the reader to go away with that emotional bond with the main character

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  180. I love this approach and live by it myself. That last paragraph says it all!

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  181. Totally agree. My children love picture book biographies where they can connect with an individual and the information is revealed in an engaging manner.

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  182. This is an excellent way for me to understand "heart" of a book. I used to dislike nonfiction as a child--boring! But now, I love it and can see the changes that have been made to improve nonfiction. I've even written some and had FUN doing it.

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  183. Thanks for an excellent post with many useful links. I love this line, "while facts and details are important and interesting, it's the larger human truths that connect to readers."

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  184. As a biography writer, I appreciate the truth in this post! It's not just about the life of a person, or even their accomplishments...it's about their journey. Thank you!

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  185. Great post, as always, Beth! It is funny that you don't think of your books as biographies. They are definitely snatches/moments within in a life as opposed to birth to death examinations. But I am not sure that makes them less of a biography ("an account of someone's life written by someone else"), but rather a very focused and interesting portion of their life. Thanks for the thoughtful post and writting these awesome NF books.

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  186. Heart! Of course! Without heart, you just have a boring list of facts. Thanks!

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  187. Love these suggestions, including the links. Thanks!

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  188. I love your post Beth especially right now as I am revising a NF manuscript. I appreciate your thoughtful insights.

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  189. So many hidden 'gems' in this post, Beth, thanks so much! I love what you said about HEART and writing to let the reader see inside a person's life--yes!

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  190. I loved the last line of your post. We want the reader to get inside the subject's life, not just to read about it. Thank you, Beth.

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  191. I love the idea of non-typical biographies. Back to the library to find your books.

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  192. Thank you for the advice to find the heart of a story. I find it very useful in staying focused. I also found this line in your essay very illuminating: "While facts and details are important and interesting, it’s the larger human truths that connect to readers."

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  193. Love all these ideas! Thank you for sharing how you organize your research and developing ideas too!

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  194. Great post, Beth! I need to reread it, in fact I’m going to collect a few ideas from each day’s NF posts and put them in a document I can reference later!

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