by eNotes

Start Free Trial

What is a good opening sentence for an autobiography?

Quick answer:

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.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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"

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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?

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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)

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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."

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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. 

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

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.

Approved by eNotes Editorial
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How do I start my first sentence for my autobiography?

I would suggest that you think carefully about the parts of your personality or life that you want to convey to your readers the most. Something that is meaningful to you that gives your readers a glimpse into who you really are. Whether you begin with a quote that is significant to you, or you share an anecdote from an important part of your life, you can use your opening line to connect with your readers from the very beginning of your book. It does not have to be anything profound, but it should be honest and true, straight from the crux of your being.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How do I start my first sentence for my autobiography?

I can understand the difficulty of your task. Writing an autobiography is not easy. Part of the reason for this is owing to the fact that there is no set way to write one. You can pretty much start in any way you like. Hence, be creative. In light of this, probably the best way I can help you is to give you a few examples of great autobiographies in history. 

First, we should start with the one who created the genre - Augustine. Here is how he starts his Confessions:

"Great art thou, O Lord, and greatly to be praised; great is thy power, and infinite is thy wisdom."

Since Augustine was a Christian bishop, he wrote from a religious point of view. 

Second, Mark Twain's autobiography is more down to earth. He starts with these words. 

"I was born on 30th of November 1835, in the almost invisible village of Florida, Missouri." 

Here is how Malcolm X's autobiography starts: 

When my mother was pregnant with me, she told me later, a party of hooded Ku Klux Klan riders galloped up to our home in Omaha, Nebraska, one night.

As you can see, there is no one way to start. There is no formula to follow. So, be creative and tell your story. There is no story like it, as we are all unique. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What's a good way to start off an autobiography?

The reader of your life story will want to know three things early in the telling: First, your attitude toward the project, your “raison d’etre,” your motivation for taking on this project. Second, what period (not just the dates) you lived through; scientific/technological advances, political/international milestones, artistic periods, and the like. Third, what you “contributed” during your life; awards, accomplishments, your engagement in the world’s events during “the time of your life” (Saroyan). As a quick example, early in my biography I would state my desire to leave a chronological record for my children; I would mention WWII, the Cold War, and the moon landing (as well as the Beatniks, the Beatles, and Andy Warhol); I would then mention my academic accomplishments in brief.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on