Do you like your subject?
I have heard authors interviewed who have just completed a biography, as to whether they liked their subject. I have thought that an odd question, given that a good biography should be impartially based on facts – a retelling, as it were – of actual events. Liking, or not, should have no bearing on the subject or the telling of a great story.
So, having completed a biography where – thankfully – lots of great details came to light during research, I had to ask the same question of myself: Did I like my subject? Not at first, I had to admit, though he was intriguing, his family background fascinating, and his own travails were riveting. He did not initially appear to have much moral fibre, which led him into great difficulties. Of course, this, in itself, can be the basis of a story worth telling.
But tracking someone over the course of their lifetime gives you an greater understanding of their life, their interactions, and their development as a person. As their life unfolds, their experiences broaden, and their changing reactions to a variety of circumstances are revealed. And knowing a man as closely as it is possible to know him, after the fact, allows you to answer that question. Yes, I like him.