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How to Write a Good Personal Narrative

by Emily Layfield

A personal narrative is an autobiographical piece of writing that tells a story meaningful to its author. A good personal narrative will connect emotionally to the reader through strong imagery and storytelling techniques. While portrayed slightly differently than most academic writing, personal narratives should still have a clear introduction, body paragraphs and a conclusion, and include a purpose larger than the story itself.

Select a Topic

To write a good personal narrative, select a topic about your life that is interesting to you. Think of an event, or season, of your life that grew you, changed you or taught you something. Because these events are more meaningful to you, they will be easier to relate vividly. When selecting your topic, keep in mind that personal narratives, sometimes referred to as narrative essays, do more than tell a story; each essay will convey a deeper moral meaning, a lesson learned or an insight gained.

Hook the Reader

Once you’ve selected a topic, consider how to start and frame your essay. For example, is the story best told chronologically or beginning in the midst of the action? Will you tell your story as a memory and reflection or as it happens? Deciding the angle and frame of your story will also determine the tone and mood of the narrative. Also consider how you plan to “hook” your reader’s initial attention. Some helpful techniques might include a saying or proverb, a quotation, beginning in the action, focusing on the lesson learned or a reflective statement.

Tell the Story

As you progress into the body of the narrative, focus on telling the story. A good personal narrative will include all of the elements of a story: an introduction (or exposition), rising action, climax, falling action and conclusion. As you write the body of your narrative, keep in mind the elements of storytelling and focus on showing, not telling. To “show” your reader the narrative and its significance instead of “telling” them, use concrete rather than abstract language. In other words, utilize the five senses as you describe, use dialogue throughout and make transitions in time clear.

Conclude with Meaning

Conclude the personal narrative by bringing significance and cohesion to the story and relaying to your readers an original insight or lesson learned. The conclusion enables you to connect a story that is personal to you to your larger audience through morals, lessons or insights everyone can relate to. The conclusion for a personal narrative is less about length and structure and more concerned with connecting intellectually or emotionally with your reader.

Revise and Edit

As you conclude your personal narrative, review and revise the text. Be sure the point-of-view is consistent. For example, if you started in first-person, make sure that the story continues in first-person. Read your narrative carefully and check verb tenses, as it’s easy to shift from past to present tense when telling a story. You might also encourage a friend or colleague to read the story and alert you to gaps or confusions. Because you know the story so well, someone removed from the memory is better able to find trouble spots.

About the Author

Based in West Palm Beach, Fla., Emily Layfield has been writing and editing education-related work since 2009. She holds a Bachelor of Science in English and English/ language arts education and a Master of Arts in secondary English education from Auburn University.

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