Writing your autobiography

Simply put, an autobiography is a self-authored account of one’s life. It is one of the most endearing genres of non-fiction as other readers get a glimpse of another person’s life as narrated from his own vantage point.

So, how is one to write a great autobiography? Well, certainly, there are no hard and fast rules to go about it. That said, the following tips will certainly go a long way in helping you draft an engaging read that is your autobiography.

Structure

As with any other story, your life story should be narrated in a structured manner if it is to make sense and keep the reader glued to the end. Make use of devices such as a plot, imagery, themes, action, dialogue, conflict and so on.

Plot

Essentially, before embarking on writing your first draft, sketch a plot on how your life story will proceed. Do you commence your life story at birth or do you first give a brief introduction of your forbearers if their lives have impacted your life in a major away? Do you start with a cathartic moment that redefined your life then thread your story around this?

For instance, a political leader that is descended from a political family- say her father was president or her grandfather was a prime minister – may have had her life impacted by certain encounters centred around this. Then again readers would be interested to know how these interactions shaped her life as well as her personality. The plot too enhances that the story has continuity hence readers can keep track of what happened where, why and how; thus, further deepening their enjoyment of the story.

Imagery

Imagery is both mental and visual. It comes out in the way you describe people, events or places; which is to say that you must be vivid in your description. Say you are writing about the neighbourhood you grew up in, can you acutely describe it so that we as readers can have a mental imagery of it? For instance, how was the house- rickety? Posh? What was your favourite part of the house and why? The attic, perhaps? Why? For all the wonderful memories as you read a book, played pirates and so on.

Visual imagery such as photographs provide context of your story. As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” Plus, inclusion of such pictures aid in your description of events, places or people. No doubt a good place to curate these pictures would be from the family album, more so, those informing your genealogy and your childhood.

Themes

Typical themes in an autobiography include love, relationships, religion, education… basically the factors that shape us to be who we are and which influence how we interact with others. For instance, a childhood bereft of love and caring may have influenced one to grow up into a bitter person. On the other end, one’s sibling may have grown up to be a selfless leader in response to the same childhood experiences.

That said, depending on one’s career or profession, one theme may dominate the autobiography. In the case of the politician above, politics would undoubtedly be the underlying theme in the autobiography. When selecting the main theme for your autobiography, ask yourself: What would be my audience be most interested in? Remember that when all is said and day, you must excite the would-be reader to purchase your autobiography.

Your voice

Being pretty much subjective in nature, an autobiography gives you the leeway to own your story. As such you can narrate the emotions behind major decisions you made- of course, with recourse to hindsight if you think a different decision would have led to better results. Owning the narration- the good, the bad and the ugly- allows you to be human and to encapsulate the flaws inherent in being human. At the end, your autobiography is going to be led by fellow humans with their flaws and quirks too.

On matters voice, seeing how others have owned the narration that is their autobiography will certainly aid you to find yours. In addition, they act as a sort of guideline as to how to approach your autobiography. Excellent autobiographies I would recommend include Daughter of Destiny: An Autobiography by Benazir Bhutto and Life and Death in Shanghai by Nien Cheng.