How to Begin a Lifestory

Many writer agonize about just where to start a memoir, where to launch into the story. There, of course, many places where a story can commence.

1. The place in the story at which you begin to write is almost never the place at which readers will begin to read your story. A writer begins someplace because beginning someplace is the way it is done. It is only much later that the writer will know where to place this initial piece of writing–at the beginning or elsewhere in the memoir.

2. The first paragraphs in a story may be only a warm up and not worth preserving. The real beginning of your story can sometimes occur in a later paragraph. Move the paragraph that ought to serve as your lead to the beginning of your story and consign your warm-up paragraphs where they belong–in the waste basket! You’ll be glad you didn’t hide your true lead under unnecessary false starts.

3. Once you know the crisis point of your story, the place where the action is at its most intense, where a turn around has to occur, you then know what in your memoir has to be built up to. Sometimes people know this crisis before they begin to write; sometimes they have to write a while before they know what it is. Either way, knowing the crisis will be essential. Choose scenes that lead up to the crisis. The first of these scenes is perhaps your beginning.

4. Choose a moment that is the zenith or the nadir of your story for the opening chapter. The last sentence in the introductory chapter is something like: “How did I get to this point–zenith or nadir?” Chapter Two and the rest of the book then answer this question.

Good luck writing your memoir. Let me know what your experience has been.


About Denis Ledoux

Denis Ledoux began helping people to turn their memories into memoirs in 1988. Denis was named Lifewriting Professional of the Year by the Association of Personal Historians in 1996. Today, Denis is a writer, educator, teacher, autobiography co-author, memoir-writing coach, editor and publisher. He directs The Memoir Network, an international group of memoir professionals who use his method and materials to help people write lifestories. Denis also offers writing tele-classes and leads memoir writing tele-groups.
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