English 1, Lesson 85 – How to Make your Biography Less Disjointed than Twain’s

Write 500 words on this topic: “What can you do now to make your biography less disjointed than Twain’s?”

Mark Twain, while a great writer, evidently did not know what he was doing while writing his autobiography. Numerous chapters raised many questions that should have been answered, but Twain neglected to provide answers. For example, Twain writes about a man named Jim Gillis. Twain speaks very highly of Gillis and describes him to have been a very good storyteller, making up stories as he went along. Twain even says that he thought Gillis was much more remarkable than his friends and family suspected. Twain continues to talk up Jim Gillis, and the reader starts to wonder, “Well what did Jim Gillis do that made Twain think so highly of him? What great thing did Gillis achieve?” Instead of answering this question, Twain tells a sort of cute, mildly amusing story of Jim Gillis and the inedible fruit. To sum up the story, Gillis talks up a fruit that he has never eaten, and upon finding out that it is inedible, he attempts to make it edible so as not to look like a fool. Gillis cooks the fruit and drowns it in sugar, but is unable to make it any less bitter. No other information is given on this Jim Gillis. Twain then moves on to the next chapter. This theme is repeated throughout the book. Twain writes about something or someone, multiple questions are brought to mind, and then Twain just moves on.

Rather than being an organized account of Twain’s life, his autobiography is more like a collection of memories and reminiscences that Twain lumps together haphazardly.

In order to avoid writing your own autobiography like Twain’s, I concocted a small checklist to refer to while writing.

Firstly, when you have completed a chapter or passage about someone in your life, ask yourself the following questions: How and when did I meet this person? How did he/she affect my life?

Next, when writing about an event, ask yourself: Why did I attend this event? Why is it important? How did it affect my life? Where, when, and why did it take place?

Then, once you are coming back to write the next chapter or passage, briefly review the previous chapter or passage so that you are reminded of where you left off.

Gather all the material you wish to put in your book and line them up in an orderly fashion, preferably on a proper timeline starting from your childhood and leading up to the year that you are currently living in. Of course, if you have a memory related to the one you have just written, but it is some time later in your life, you can write them together to make it easier for the reader to comprehend. An example from Twain’s book: Twain recounts the time a hypnotist came to his town and Twain, wanting attention, volunteered to be hypnotized. When he found it didn’t work on him, he pretended to be under the hypnotist’s influence. Right after that passage, he says that decades later he told his mother about how his performance was fake. In this circumstance, he broke the timeline, but it works because if he were to write that scene when it actually happened, it would be very random and break the flow of the story. Breaking the timeline would not work if you were to write about a job you had when you were a teen, then follow with another job you had close to your senior years. The timeline is disrupted, but it is only confusing as they do not need to be grouped together. You should write about the job you had as a teen, write what happened in the decades after that, then write about your senior years job.

As you go along writing your book, use this checklist to make sure that you are writing relevant chapters and that you are not leaving your readers hanging without the information they need to grasp your story. Twain did not think to use a checklist like this, and therefore produced an oddly disjointed autobiography. His stories begged questions that he did not answer, which left us, the readers, without the information we wanted to know. Hopefully when you write your own book, you are able to avoid having a collection of memories like Twain, and instead have an organized timeline of events.


2 thoughts on “English 1, Lesson 85 – How to Make your Biography Less Disjointed than Twain’s

  1. What a fun topic! I love Mark Twain, especially Huck Finn and never thought about how he could be more organized. Love this.

    Sophia – I feel like this piece has your voice more than any I have read. Your use of commas and evidence from text are outstanding and bring your personality to the writing. So so great. Very few edits – outstanding.

    Mark Twain, while a great writer, evidently did not know what he was doing while writing his autobiography. Numerous chapters raised many questions that should have been answered, but Twain neglected to provide answers. For example, Twain writes about a man named Jim Gillis. Twain speaks very highly of Gillis and describes him to have been a very good storyteller, making up stories as he went along. Twain even says that he thought Gillis was much more remarkable than his friends and family suspected. Twain continues to talk up Jim Gillis, and the reader starts to wonder, “Well what did Jim Gillis do that made Twain think so highly of him? What great thing did Gillis achieve?” Instead of answering this question, Twain tells a sort of cute, mildly amusing story of Jim Gillis and the inedible fruit. To sum up the story, Gillis talks up a fruit that he has never eaten, and upon finding out that it is inedible, he attempts to make it edible so as not to look like a fool. Gillis cooks the fruit and drowns it in sugar, but is unable to make it any less bitter. No other information is given on this Jim Gillis. Twain then moves on to the next chapter. This theme is repeated throughout the book. Twain writes about something or someone, multiple questions are brought to mind, and then Twain just moves on.

    Rather than being an organized account of Twain’s life, his autobiography is more like a collection of memories and reminiscences that Twain lumps together haphazardly.

    In order to avoid writing your own autobiography like Twain’s, I concocted a small checklist to refer to while writing.

    Firstly, when you have completed a chapter or passage about someone in your life, ask yourself the following questions: How and when did I meet this person? How did he/she affect my life?

    Next, when writing about an event, ask yourself: Why did I attend this event? Why is it important? How did it affect my life? Where, when, and why did it take place?

    Then, once you are coming back to write the next chapter or passage, briefly review the previous chapter or passage so that you are reminded of where you left off.

    Gather all the material you wish to put in your book and line them up in an orderly fashion, preferably on a proper timeline starting from your childhood and leading up to the years (year) that you are currently living in. Of course, if you have an account related to the account you have just written,(If you have a memory related to the one you have just written) but it is some time later in your life, you can write them together to make it easier for the reader to comprehend. An example from Twain’s book: Twain recounts the time a hypnotist came to his town and Twain, wanting attention, volunteered to be hypnotized. When he found it didn’t work on him, he pretended to be under the hypnotist’s influence. Right after that passage, he says that decades later he told his mother about how his performance was fake. In this circumstance, he broke the timeline, but it works because if he were to write that scene when it actually happened, it would be very random and break the flow of the story. Breaking the timeline would not work if you were to write about a job you had when you were a teen, then follow with another job you had close to your senior years. The timeline is disrupted, but it is only confusing as they do not need to be grouped together. You should write about the job you had as a teen, write what happened in the decades after that, then write about your senior years job.

    As you go along writing your book, use this checklist to make sure that you are writing relevant chapters and that you are not leaving your readers hanging without the information they need to grasp your story. Twain did not think to use a checklist like this, and therefore produced an oddly disjointed autobiography. His stories begged questions that he did not answer, which left us, the readers, without the information we wanted to know. Hopefully when you write your own book, you are able to avoid having a collection of memories like Twain, and instead have an organized timeline of events.

    Liked by 1 person

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