How to Write a Personal Narrative

How to Write a Personal Narrative

If asked to write a personal narrative, would you know which composing strategies to use?

Narratives are sometimes required as school writing assignments, job applications, and a variety of other written tasks. Because they are widely used, you should have an idea of how to write one and how this form differs from other writing modes.

A personal narrative is a story told in the first person, often using pronouns like “I,” “me,” and “mine.” The story is about real life, not creative fiction or literature. It may be about the writer, something the writer witnessed, or about someone the writer knows, having heard it second-hand. Truth and experience are the hallmarks of this style.

The narrative emphasizes a clear focus. It recounts what is probably a short story in an informal as well as an informational way. Reading a narrative is like listening to someone tell a story, except that a narrative is based on real life. The focus should be clear to readers from the beginning; you don’t want to use too much suspense in this type of writing. Rather, save the drama for fiction and be frank with readers in telling them from the outset what to expect.

Your narrative can include autobiographical elements. You may choose to reveal details from your life or the life of someone you know or care about. If it’s not autobiographical, the story should outline an event, or series of events, with which the writer is clearly familiar.

By the conclusion of the paper, a narrative will have made a main point. In other words, if the paper outlines the story of a young woman who survives a tornado’s destruction of her home, readers may ask, “How does this impact me?’ “What can I learn from her experience?” Be ready to offer a nugget of knowledge as an application for readers; this will become your main point.

A helpful outline for writing a personal narrative is as follows:

WHAT? Tell readers the basic story, as though responding to their collective unasked question, ‘What happened?’

SO WHAT? Then revise your story to make readers care. Bad and good things happen to us all. Why should they care about the events in your paper? Make it exciting, meaningful, and purposeful.

NOW, WHAT? At the end of the paper, give readers a principle that they can take with them. By applying what they learn from your narrative experience, they may view the world or themselves differently.

A typical essay length is 500 to 1,000 words, so gauge your narrative accordingly. Write in a natural “tone” as you describe events, and readers will be encouraged to stay with it to the end.

Plan your story ahead of time by writing an outline or making a list of points you want to include. Then flesh out the details in your first draft, addressing grammar and punctuation problems later. When it’s finally ready, your personal narrative will tell a story based on real experience that will give your readers something to think about and perhaps even change their lives for the better.

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