When writing an autobiography, you are acting as a tour guide to your own life, introducing your reader to people they've never met, places they've never been and events they've never seen, in an attempt to give them a better understanding of your world.
If you haven't already done so, watch the introductory video to this unit.
Have a go at structuring your own autobiography:
1. Thinking about your life, what are the main stages so far? Try to identify between 5-8. Perhaps early childhood, early school years, high school or college, university, leaving home...
2. Remember that an autobiography isn't like a diary, it's not a record of every event or experience you've ever had, but a showcase of the highlights. What was the most interesting or challenging event from each of those stages of your life? When you think back on that time, what are the overriding memories and emotions? What were the lessons you learned?
3. Write these down and arrange in chronological order, from childhood to present day. Next, try to come up with a title and a rough outline for each chapter (see example below). Try giving your chapters a title that defines that period in your life, or represents the most interesting event that you will include. For example:
School/Realising My Parents Were Human
Work/Life is Worth More than Money
Travel/Stuck up a Tree in Timbuktu
Retirement/How to Cope with Aging
4. Pick your moment of in medias res. What is the most interesting or dramatic scene from your life so far, the hook to drag people into your story and make them want to care about how you got there?
5. Write a brief (200 words max.) paragraph throwing people into your story - the opening lines of your autobiography, in first person.
If we were to break down Nyakarundi's autobiography into a story arc, the chapters might fit something like this.
The opening lines/hook:
It didn’t feel real until they put the cuffs on.
Cold metal against warm skin.
I could feel the cop’s eyes on me, weighing me up. Not a smile or a word of comfort, just this stony-assed stare. It hit me then. This was happening. I was under arrest. I was a criminal.
An example of a chapter layout might go something like this:
Title: Growing Pains
Content: Growing up as a refugee in Bujumbura. The political landscape in Burundi. Getting drunk and causing trouble. Parents getting divorced, and moving between mum and dad's houses. Not being good at school.
Main Message or Lesson: Anyone who could leave Africa, left. The West was seen as some sort of paradise everyone should aspire to.
Title: Out of Africa
Content: Arriving in America for the first time. Feeling disillusioned by the reality of America compared to the dream. Learning about racial tension. Starting university and struggling to make friends.
Lesson: America isn't everything it's cracked up to be. It can be lonely and boring, and there's a lot of racial tension.
Content: Unexpectedly becoming a father. Building up the courage to tell his mum, and his mum's reaction. Being afraid of disappointing his daughter by being an absent father or not being able to provide for her. The breakup of his relationship.
Lesson: Becoming a parent focuses your priorities.