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  - Melissa G., about Sarah's Character Workshop

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Writing Biography

Facilitator:  Sarah Zale

Workshop Syllabus

The growing interest in creating memoir and biography suggests that many of us are eager to keep alive our own stories and those of the people who touch our lives. As we sit at our computers, at once thrilled by all the information available at our fingertips and fearful of the numbing in our hearts, we wonder how we might preserve the human element of this life. Perhaps we can do that by giving written form to our heroes and to members of our families—to all those people who affect our lives by the way they provoke or enlighten

Week One:  What exactly goes into the writing of biography? We will examine what makes the writing of biography different and the same as fiction. 

Week Two:  The process of choosing a subject of your biography and how a writer goes about getting the information needed. 

Week Three:  Designing an interview 

Week Four:  Transcribing Information and coming to know your subject. 

Week Five:  Form and Story Structure 

Week Six:  Research and the “Absent” Subject 


  • what type of information is required to create a 3-dimensional character in biography
  • how to develop an interview and seek how to reach a subject’s most interesting “truths”
  • about legal and personal responsibilities to a subject
  • how the information they collect and their chosen subject inform on what format the story should take

The development of a character in biography is more difficult than in fiction writing because one, the process of getting to know anyone can take a lifetime and two, “truth” can be a severe inhibitor to the creative flow of the pen. This course will infiltrate these concerns and offer solutions through lecture, discussion, and exercises.

Required Materials: None

About the Facilitator:

 Sarah Zale has a Masters in English Literature and Rhetoric and the Teaching of Writing from the University of Colorado. She is a published, freelance writer of poetry, essays, and short stories. Recently she completed a collection of biographies of women sailing the world. Living in San Diego, she teaches creative writing and composition at National University.


Workshop Begins: March 18, 2002
Duration: 6 weeks  
Tuition: $115


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Books recommended on this page are not required reading for participation in the course. Required materials, if any, are listed in the course syllabus.

Invention the Truth: The Art of Writing Memoir
by William Zinsser, editor

This provocative dialogue vividly examines the expanding and innovative approaches to a literary form practiced by some of our most prestigious authors. Contributors address the pleasures and challenges of accurately rendering their personal histories. Some of the authors featured include Toni Morrison, Annie Dillard, Alfred Kazin, Russell Baker, and many others.