How To Start An Autobiography

What would be a good introduction or opening sentence to start an autobiography?

One good way to start an autobiography is by immediately diving into a particularly significant or meaningful incident from your life. You might choose to describe a life-changing or unusual experience, the first time you discovered something you love, or any story from your life that is important to you. Beginning in the midst of the action with specific, descriptive details can help you hook your readers and make them want to keep reading.

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It seems to me that it would be difficult for most young people to write complete autobiographies. They haven't been around that long, and most haven't done much except grow up and go to school. I would suggest that, with the teacher's permission of course, it would be better for a young student to write about a single memorable incident in his or her life. A fairly detailed description of that incident ought to give a pretty good impression of the writer's background. If you were to write about a single incident in your life, then the first step, it seems to me, would be to jot some of the incidents that stand out in your memory, and then to zero in on one of them as your project. You can find some excellent examples of the kind of essay I am suggesting in collections of James Thurber's short pieces, particularly in My Life and Hard Times and in The Thurber Carnival, which contains selections from My Life and Hard Times. Here are a few titles of his autobiographical essays:

"The Night the Ghost Got In"

"The Night the Bed Fell"

"The Dog that Bit People"

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What is your favorite color?

What is your favorite subject in school?

What is your least favorite subject?

What is your favorite musical group?

Who is your favorite author?

Who is your favorite actor?

Who is your favorite actress?

What is the name of your favorite book?

What would you like to do when you graduate?

Where would you like to travel?

What is your favorite food?

What is your favorite pastime?

Who is your best friend?

Do you have any brothers or sisters?

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Treat it like any other "hook." You want to grab your audience's attention so that they want to read your paper.

A few good ways to start any paper include the following:

1. using a startling statement - shock your audience or use an appalling statistic

2. using a relevant quotation - make sure to provide proper attribution

3. ask a question - make sure to avoid second person in formal writing

4. an anecdote - a short story that appeals to the audience emotionally (may be a funny story)

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Another great idea would be to allude to something that happens later in your autobiography. "The day I got married was the most insane day of my life. Everything went wrong. But I suppose that's jumping the gun a bit."

Or you could begin with a significant moment in your life, "I remember the first time my father put a fishing pole in my hands. He sat me down on the end of the dock and said, if that bobber goes under the water you jerk. Within moments it sunk under the water--I jerked, excitement coursing through me--and caught my first bass. That day I realized how much I enjoyed the peace and quiet of being on a lake."

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You might want to begin with an observation that relates to

your experiences ("It takes years for a house to become a home.");

to the location(s)("Like much of North America, Philadelphia is cold and wet in the winter.");

of your personal history "(My passion for sports developed late. My first passion was art.");

or to human nature. Tolstoy begins his great novel Anna Karenina with this line:

“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

You could come up with a similar insightful generality that has bearing on your own history. 

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Think about who you are or what you want to become in life and rip us with a really exciting starting sentence. For example:

Example 1: Making other people double-over with laughter is my ambition in life. One day, I hope to be a stand-up comedian and then, maybe Saturday Night Live.

Example 2: I've always been fascinated by graveyards, as I view loved ones grieve for a family member. One day, I hope to bring solace to hurting families in the funeral business....

Example 3: I was in the emergency room again, with my Dad right there to comfort me. Quite the "stunt man" as a child, I gave my parents many scares.

Hope this helps. Godspeed to you.

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It's nice to start out a story with a specific example of something that happened to you. It should be an incident that you describe in detail, something that would make someone laugh or cry or just be intrigued; like they would ask themselves, "what is happening here?" In journalism they refer to that as the "lead"; it makes the reader want to read the entire story.


The sun was high in the sky when I woke up on the deck of Uncle Bob's yacht. I sat up. The hot sun was in my eyes. I looked down at my legs. They hurt. There were scratches stretching the whole way down the front of my legs, from my thighs down to my ankles. I looked around but couldn't understand where I was. I didn't recognize my surroundings. My ears felt like they were plugged. I couldn't hear well...

Anyway, that's just an example of a detailed description of a specific event.

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Beginning a piece of writing in which you wish to grip the audience is best done 'in medias res' - in the middle of the action. You can engage really well by giving the impression something is overheard, or incomplete, then the reader's curiosity takes over as your events unfold. Beginning in the middle of a memorable event gives you the opportunity to tell what happened at the time, and reflect on it. Ideas could be:

' "Aaah!" I screamed as the bicycle wheel flew over my head...'

'There was paint everywhere - the walls, the ceiling, my hair..'

Think of three key events which shaped you as a person and try this technique to formulate your beginning.


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The thing about an autobiographical essay is that you DON'T want to start out with a cheesy beginning.  In that case, be sure you DON'T say, "Once upon a time," or "I was born on November 13, 1974," or "In this essay, I am going to write about my life."  Is this an autobiography of your entire life?  If so, you could start with, "When I was young, my family and I lived in ____."  Or, "Things were good/bad/boring/exciting in my early life."  Something like that will do.  If this is an autobiographical essay about one incident that happened to you, start with something like, "I never expected to be as happy/sad/shocked/angry/embarrassed as I was on that day."  Or, "Many things have happened to me in my life, but this was the best/worst/saddest/funniest."  Hope this helps.

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