A personal narrative is, basically, an essay written about a personal experience. Most of the time, personal narratives are written in the first person and sound a lot like a story, which means that they aren’t as formal as the other papers your professor assigns. In a personal narrative, you have the freedom to be creative and explore your writing style, so writing one can be a lot of fun, but it can also be challenging if you don’t know where to begin. That’s where I come in.
Starting is the Hardest Part
Or it can be anyway, especially with a personal narrative. It can be hard to decide what to write about, especially if you haven’t been given any guidelines. The trick that I use to narrow down the possibilities is to keep the page requirement in mind while I brainstorm. This can really help to narrow down the possibilities, after all not all experiences can be condensed down into two pages, nor can they all be stretched to eight. If the paper you are writing is longer, avoid choosing an experience that you do not remember very well, or that lacks detail. On the other hand, if the paper is shorter, avoid experiences that are too elaborate, or long, because when you go to write the narrative it may end up so packed with detail that it becomes confusing to the reader. Make sure that the experience you choose is appropriate for the length of the paper.
When writing the narrative make sure that the opening paragraph, in some way, tells the reader the general subject of the story. I like to think of the traditional fairy-tale beginning “Once upon a time in a land far, far away” as a reminder of what type of information to include. “Once upon a time” reminds me to mention when the story takes place, and “in a land far, far away” reminds me to include a setting for the story. Next, most fairy tales mention the main character and give the reader an idea of what problem they will be facing in the rest of the story. These are also good pieces of information to include in your introduction.
In the body paragraphs be sure to structure the story, and to add interest by including details (especially sensory details; colors, textures, smells, etc.), dialogue, and using figurative language. For example, instead of telling the reader “She had been crying”, show them what you mean by including sensory details, “Her eyes were puffy and red, and every now and then she sniffed audibly”. Other details like colors and smells can really help to build a scene, but make sure not to add so much detail that it overwhelms the reader. Give details to the things that are most important to the story. For example, you might mention the color of someone’s shirt if it gets ruined later on, or you might explain the colors and smells of the county fair to create an atmosphere. Using details in the right places can help to guide your story by making it clear to the reader which parts are the most important. It is also important to make sure that the reader understands how you felt about the experience when it was happening. You can do this by explaining what you were thinking throughout the story and why. Make sure that your narrative is clear, and that readers can come away from the story knowing what happened and how you felt about the experience.
Wrapping it Up
In your conclusion, summarize what happened in the story and the impact it had on you. What kind of experience was it? You may also want to include how you feel about the experience now. What are your thoughts on the experience now that you have reflected on it?