A dramatized biography is one way that dramatists writing plays and writers penning novels can “fill in” the blanks in a play or novel they are writing.
The subject of the play or novel may have huge holes in their biography. That is, they might have a well known childhood, but up until middle age, that entire part of their life is unknown. There may be no writings, no diaries, no journals, no way of knowing what they did or how they grew up, or more importantly, how to know what events influenced and affected their lives.
If little is known about the subject of the play or novel, the writer may have to “craft” events out of what he thinks may have happened.
The writer may have some clues. Perhaps a few sentences are mentioned in the diary of a sibling, or maybe there is a newspaper article that describes an event, even a tragedy, that befell the family of the subject of the play or book.
There is no way that the writer can know exactly what kind of an impact a tragedy, for example, had upon the subject of his writing. He has to do more research, discover what he can, and see if that fits into what he knows.
However, suppose there is no more information to be had? Suppose all he knows is what’s on the yellowed piece of newsprint in front of him? The writer has to make his best guess, or leave an entire decade or more out of the life of his subject.
It might not be enough to just guess. For a biography, or a play, or a novel, it might just be too dry and uninteresting for an audience.
This is where the creativity of the writer comes in. Suppose the writer looks again at the tragedy in the newsprint that involved his subject’s family, and then he looks into the later known life of the man he is writing about.
Let’s say that the subject’s sister died after an illness, and from the biography that is known, the subject was extremely upset. He didn’t easily get over his sister’s death, and in fact, it seemed to cast a pall over his entire life and becomes a major theme in his biography.
The writer could make an educated guess that the tragedy of his subject’s earlier years may have had a profound effect on the entire life of his subject. The later, adulthood death of his sister could, in fact, have been a horrible reminder of the tragedy of his earlier years.
So now the writer has some solid evidence for his theory: that the earlier tragedy described in the newspaper article is connected to his subject, that as an adult the death of the subject’s sister had a profound impact upon him, much more so than one might expect in an adult male of an earlier era where the premature death of people was a much more common event than now.
He can make a fairly educated guess that the earlier tragedy had a big effect on his subject into his adult life. But the writer has no direct evidence for this. He doesn’t have any quotes, any diaries, any evidence that any of this happened. What he has is a really good theory.
So what does he do? The writer dramatizes what he knows. The facts as they are, and his theory, are the bones upon which he drapes the filler of what he thinks may have happened.
This especially important in a work such as a play or a movie. A mere guess, or hedging a theory in too many dry-sounding words, would just put an audience to sleep.
The writer has to use his best creativity to make his theory come to life, but conversely, he doesn’t want to make up the missing events of the subject’s life. Not unless he wants his book or play to be scoffed at as mere fiction. One thing it should be is grounded in the facts, whatever they may be.