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How to Build an Outline for a Personal Narrative

by Kori Morgan

A personal narrative gives you a unique opportunity to tell a story about yourself using the creative elements of fiction. By developing your experience into a plot, you can engage readers with your experience and reveal how you changed as a result of what happened. You can develop an outline for your narrative essay by introducing readers to your story, developing a chronological plot and revealing what you learned.

Opening

Like any essay, your personal narrative needs to grab the audience's attention from the first paragraph. As you begin your outline, you can plan a creative way to introduce your experience to readers. For example, if you're writing a narrative about learning to drive a car, you might open with an action sequence describing your driving practice in a parking lot, which might include slamming on the breaks and knocking over cones. This can set the tone for a story wherein you effectively overcame an obstacle and became stronger in the process.

Plot Outline

Just as the body paragraphs of an essay are organized according to specific points, a narrative essay chronologically relates each event, which builds suspense and tension for readers. The Sinclair Community College writing center suggests including at least three body paragraphs in your outline, each revealing a different aspect of the action. For your essay about learning to drive, you might focus on your initial difficulty with driving in the first paragraph, use the second to discuss the moment you knew you had the hang of it, and finally discuss passing the driving test in the third.

Details

Specific details and descriptions transform your essay from a simple summary of an experience to a vivid narrative that involves the audience. As you outline the action of your main body paragraphs, think about what sensory details are most memorable and note them in the appropriate plot sections of your outline. For example, your essay about driving might include the squeal of tires on the parking lot pavement, your sweaty palms against the wheel as you took your test, and the smooth, shiny texture of your new license.

Overall Significance

Just like in a traditional essay, a personal narrative ends with a conclusion that leaves audiences with an idea of why the topic is significant. For your conclusion, you can outline what you learned from your experience and who you've become as a result. For the essay about getting your license, you might choose to reflect on how the experience taught you that learning new tasks is worthwhile, even if difficult at first. You could also discuss how you have become more patient and persistent when developing new abilities.

About the Author

Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.

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