Autobiographies: Where Fiction and Reality Meet

“I’ve decided to kill off a few characters in the book I’m writing. It would definitely spice up my autobiography some.” – We’ve all heard the old joke. Question is, are you killing them off in reality or in the fiction? That’s what makes the joke funny. It also introduces an interesting dilemma when it comes to an autobiography. (But more on that after the main introduction)

A history of life told from the perspective of the writer–that’s what an autobiography is. Most are boring, some are funny, even fewer are adventurous, the select remainder can be literary gems, and the vast majority remains unwritten. Most books are not autobiographies, so why not add another one to the pile?

Because you might not know how. That’s why. Either that, or you don’t consider your life to be very interesting. Not everyone’s a Jim Corbett. (literal man-eating tiger hunter and memoirist, who wrote down his exploits in Man-Eaters of Kumoan) It can make sense that you’re reluctant to write such a book.

To be honest, not many people have interesting enough lives to warrant interesting enough autobiographies. As a result, it ends up being kind of boring. But to say that a boring life is the source of a boring biography is nothing short of total folly. That’s ridiculous.

This is the ultimate secret of the memoirist: he or she tells a boring story in a way that it seems interesting. Now, any novice writer can muddle due justice towards an amazing story by a garbage retelling, and a master writer can take the most boring plot and make it seem as if it is an amazing story.

If the goal is to have an interesting book, that is not your sorry fault for having a boring life. All the biographers in the world (okay, most) lived normal lives, like you and me. The most interesting biographies are the ones that could have been, the ones that lie unwritten. Remember: the most important thing is to make the story interesting through writing, not to make the writing interesting through the story.

I’m no expert on autobiographies (although I thoroughly enjoy Rascal by Sterling North and I heartily recommend it), but I know one thing: an autobiography is not the funniest stories of your life (although you might know a few that would be good additions). It’s the full story of your life.

Your readers need to be there when you were born, through the major and defining events in your life, and to where you are today. If you skip around to what you consider to be the most funny or entertaining micro-events in the story, you miss pretty much all of it. Save it for a neighborly chat over a party or something. Only involve those stories inasmuch as they play into the most important parts of your life.


There is a slight dirty secret about autobiographies (and it’s the only reason why there’s an article about it in a blog of advice about fictional writing). Since you’re the captain of this ship, the owner of this restaurant, the master of your faith, the writer of your book…well, what’s life without a little imbellishment?

After all, unless your autobiography is acting as a witness in a trial in court, who is obligating you to tell exactly what happened? It’s your book, your story. Wouldn’t it have been awesome if you had passed (or failed) that one test? What about asking that girl or boy out and having a wild first date (even if it had been a perfectly normal first date)?

But many people have a problem with this. I can already hear the rebuttals: “But that’s lying!” “I can’t be honest with myself if I don’t tell what really happened.” “I think it would be a better plot twist if I told what actually happened.”

Please know this: a autobiography is not lying. Lying is telling an untruth with intent to deceive someone. The point of telling in unactual occurrence is to improve the quality of the story. You could even put a disclaimer in there that says that the events of the book are mostly, but not totally, factual. However, you’re not going to ream out your grandpa because he spun a wild yarn about the events yesterday morning.

Some people think that a completely factual autobiography is best. It IS best, but only if everything (or most things) worked out in an entertaining way. Most of the time, this is not the case, and a little embellishment is required. What I’m saying is this: it’s your story, write it the way you want.

Good luck, and happy writing!

Be sure to check out my latest novel, Book 1 in the Praetors of Lost Magic Series, and our Publications page. Until then, writers!


Published by Van Ghalta

A cold, dark, mysterious character who purposefully wrote a story so that he could fit into it...A story where he himself WRITES stories, practices martial arts, blogs, plays airsoft, collects MTG trading cards, plays outdated video games, and writes weird, third-person bios for himself...

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