Dickens opened his biographical novel, David Copperfield, with the line, “I am born.” That worked in the 19th century, but it’s not the way to get started with a memoir today.
The opening lines of your book must interest and engage your readers or they are likely to put your book down never to pick it up again. A dramatic scene to hook the reader works effectively. It’s a technique you often see in fiction. Think of the mystery genre. The book opens with a murder. The hero – cop, private eye, whatever – comes on the scene with a pressing problem to solve, a killer to catch, and the story is off and running. The reader is immediately engaged and goes along for the ride.
Your memoir probably won’t start off with a murder, but there are plenty of less grisly dramatic moments. Place yourself at a turning point. Let the reader see why it’s a critical, life-changing moment. I am currently working with an author who begins her memoir with the moment when she is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and told she has two years to live. She can choose to accept the diagnosis and prepare to die or seek a more aggressive way of treating the cancer than she had been offered. She chooses the latter, finds a successful treatment and has, for the past fifteen years, been a vocal advocate for people in situations similar to her own.