What is an Autobiography?

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What Does Autobiografía Mean

We explain what autobiography is and how it is possible to make one. Also, how it differs from the biography and notable examples.

In this genre, the narrator of the stories is the character who lives them.

What is an autobiography?

Autobiography is a narrative genre that recounts the main episodes of a life , emphasizing relevant and defining life situations. It is considered a form of writing that exists between literature and history , very close to memoirs, the intimate diary and biography.



The term autobiography comes from English and arose during the nineteenth century in England , used for the first time in an article by the poet Robert Southey in 1809. However, there are references that point to its use by the German philosopher Friedrich Schlegel some years before.

The distinctive feature of the autobiography is that the narrator of the anecdotes himself is the character who lives them , and in this case, he is the author of the book himself. Narrator, protagonist and author thus converge in a single figure, which is not a guarantee of the veracity of what was told, since everything is subjectively addressed from the author's memories. It would become the literary equivalent of the pictorial self-portrait.

Some famous writers of autobiographies were Teresa de Jesús (Saint Teresa), Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Giacomo Casanova, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Francois René de Chauteaubriand, José Zorrilla, Stendhal, León Tolstoi, André Gidé, Thomas de Quincey and a long etcetera. of ancient and contemporary authors.

See also: Monograph

How to make an autobiography?

There is no single method for creating an autobiography , but certain general steps are likely to exist, such as:

  • Create a vital chronology. An outline of life, broadly speaking, that allows to visualize the important periods, the vital turning points, the great decisions taken that would merit counting.
  • Extract anecdotes. It is not enough to have a general sense of life, it is necessary to find unique anecdotes from each life period, to be able to choose which ones to tell and which ones not, which were decisive, which are funny or funny, etc. Here you can also determine the tone of the set once finished, and select the main actors of the story.
  • Choose a starting point. Once you have a set of anecdotes and a more or less complete order of the life story, you must choose where to start telling it. An autobiography need not start at the beginning, especially since early childhood impressions are short-lived and vague, and we usually know it only from the hearsay of our parents and relatives.
  • Build the first person. All autobiographies are written in the first person ("I"), so they have a direct subjective and emotional content. For this we must also choose what that first person will be like: will an alter ego from the past narrate? Will we narrate from the present moment? Who and how will our story tell?
  • Take the context into account. The times in which we grew up were decisive for our life process and our decisions, so we should not leave them out. An effort must be made to recall the social, political and historical conditions that we live in, as they are part of the content that will make our autobiography interesting.
  • Write honestly. The writing of an autobiography should only attend to the needs that we feel about telling our lives. Objections from third parties, fear of hurting their feelings and other vital elements may be addressed later, in a first review of what is written, if strictly necessary. But the writing should be as honest as possible.
  • Structure the story. It is useful to divide the autobiography into chapters or sections, which correspond to the outline outlined at the beginning. In this way we can proceed gradually and we can also carry out the pertinent investigations, such as consultations with our relatives, review of family albums, etc.

Autobiography and biography

Although both the autobiography and the biography address the reconstruction of a person's life , generally the biography aspires to a greater scientific or investigative rigor, which relies on the search for documents, the review of sources of the time, when interviews with people known to the biographer, etc.

While the autobiography has a greater subjective content: the biographer recalls his most significant life episodes and recomposes them little by little, emphasizing some and forgetting others, at his convenience .

More in: Biography

Examples of autobiography

Some notable examples of autobiography are as follows:

  • The fish in the water by Mario Vargas Llosa.
  • Memories of Afterlife by Francois-René de Chateaubriand.
  • Speak, Memory: A Revisited Autobiography of Vladimir Nabokov
  • Memoirs of Tennessee Williams.
  • Orwell in Spain by George Orwell.
  • A story of love and darkness by Amos Oz.
  • Autobiography of Charles Darwin.
  • My autobiography of Charles Chaplin.
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