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What Are the Writing Elements for a Personal Narrative?

by Karen LoBello, studioD

A personal narrative is a story typically written from the writer’s point of view. It can also relay an incident that happened to someone else, such as the writer’s good friend or parent. The essay’s topic should be significant to the author -- perhaps it’s a proud accomplishment or a harrowing experience. Narrative essays combine essential elements to engage the reader, making him feel as if he’s living the experience.


The reader should be able to visualize the story as it unfolds. Carefully chosen words create the mood of the story. The writer should use specific, sensory words that evoke emotion in the reader. Include dialogue to make the characters come alive. It’s more interesting to hear what a character has to say than to simply read about it. Incorporate concrete language that shows rather than tells. Replace “Mrs. Smith was a good teacher” with “Mrs. Smith knew how to help us turn our deepest emotions into poignant poems.”


The first paragraph of a personal narrative introduces the subject, grabs the reader’s attention and sets the scene for what is about to follow. The reader should quickly realize the point of the essay. If the narrative begins, “I thought it would be an ordinary babysitting job, but it turned into a nightmare,” then the writer’s topic is clear. Avoid lengthy descriptions and get straight to the point.


The middle portion of the essay moves through time, describing the experience as it happened. A new paragraph is used for each string of events. The order must be clear and organized so the reader isn’t confused, and vary the sentence structure so the reader doesn’t get bored. The writer can develop characters by exposing their strengths and weaknesses and describing their physical and psychological characteristics. Even though she knows the characters, her readers probably don’t. Sufficient details help to make the characters real. The plot should hold the reader’s attention and build to a climax or turning point.


The last paragraph of a personal narrative ties the information together and brings closure. It describes the resolution. It might tell how things turned out or describe a lesson that was learned. The writer typically goes through some sort of change or emotional experience, and he reflects honestly on what he learned as a result of the situation, telling how it affected him. The reader shouldn’t be left thinking, “So what?” He should readily identify the importance of the experience to the writer.

About the Author

Karen LoBello is coauthor of “The Great PJ Elf Chase: A Christmas Eve Tradition.” She began writing in 2009, following a career as a Nevada teacher. LoBello holds a bachelor's degree in K-8 education, a secondary degree in early childhood education and a master's degree in computer education.

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