Unlike analytic or argumentative essays, an autobiographical narrative does not require a thesis statement in its first paragraph. It must, however, grab the reader’s attention and convince him to keep reading. A "hook" is an opening that grabs the reader’s attention and pulls him into the narrative.
Beginning your autobiographical narrative with dialogue is an excellent way to pull your reader into the story immediately. Michael Crichton’s essay “Sharks” begins, “‘Have you dived in the pass yet?’ the proprietor of the hotel asked the first evening, when we told him that we liked the diving. ‘No,’ we said, ‘not yet.’ ‘Ah,’ he said, ‘You must dive the pass. It is the most exciting dive on Rangiroa.’” This beginning creates a scene in the reader’s mind and introduces questions that will keep the reader intrigued -- such as why the pass is the most exciting place to dive and what that has to do with the essay’s title, “Sharks.”
Emily Carr begins her essay “Time” with a description of her father, a “stern straight man” whose “look was direct, though once in a while a little twinkle forced its way through.” Many autobiographical narratives focus on character -- of either the author or someone important in her life. A character description can make a great hook, particularly in cases like Carr’s, where the character has something contradictory or compelling about him, like a “stern straight man” with a twinkle in his eye.
Open With a Shocking Fact or Statement
Dick Gregory opens his essay “Shame” with the statement “I never learned hate at home, or shame. I had to go to school for that.” This grabs the reader’s attention by being unexpected, but it also raises further questions, such as how school taught Gregory hate and shame. Though beginning with a shocking fact or statement can be very effective at grabbing the reader’s attention, make sure that you are not shocking merely to shock; if your hook doesn’t connect with the narrative that follows, your reader will feel cheated.
Begin With the End
Carl Sandburg begins “Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years” with a description of Lincoln’s death. Though Sandburg’s “Abraham Lincoln” is a biographical narrative, the same technique can work well in autobiography. Begin with the end of your story, particularly if the ending is strange or surprising, and then back up to the story’s beginning. Even though the reader already knows the ending, she will keep reading to see how things turned out that way.
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