Writing a personal narrative gives you a rare opportunity to share an intimate story about an experience that changed your attitudes, beliefs and life direction. Deciding what experience to write about, however, can often be the hardest part of this assignment. Your family, role models, accomplishments and beliefs can provide you with rich sources of material that can become powerful personal narratives.


Because they are among the first role models we have, family members play an important part in shaping who we become. For your personal narrative, you could think of a time that you did something special with your parents, a sibling or a grandparent. The essay could be developed using the experience as the plot, showing readers through detail and dialogue what made that day so special and how it helped develop your relationship. For example, your essay might be about a time that a family member taught you how to do something, like cooking or driving a car.


Mentors are experienced role models, like coaches or teachers, who instruct us about particular disciplines, but often end up being close friends, too. A personal essay could be about a significant experience with a mentor when he or she did something important for you. By creating your mentor as a character in the story, you can make his or her impact on you clear and specific for readers. For example, your essay might be about working one-on-one with an art teacher who encouraged your talent for drawing and showed you the importance of creativity.


Our jobs are also a great source of narrative writing ideas. Different occupations teach us to connect with a variety of people, to learn teamwork and to participate in service to others. For your essay, you could write about a growth experience you had at a particular job, such as working with a difficult customer, learning a particular task or having to get along with a coworker you clashed with. For example, one essay about occupation might focus on how you helped a blind customer at a coffee shop with the menu and how you dealt with the challenge of communication.


Many people have experiences with setting particular goals for themselves. Your goal could be winning a sports competition, getting a good grade in a challenging class or setting a new record in a favorite hobby or activity. Your personal narrative could be the story of your plan to reach your goal, from what inspired you to pursue it to the challenges you faced along the way. A sample goal-oriented essay might be about wanting to win first place in a swim meet and how you committed to daily practice and mental preparation to reach your objective.


Not all personal narratives have to be a story of triumph. One approach might be to think about a time when you failed at something. The story communicates a lesson about failure, such as how, even though you didn't win the swim meet, the process of preparing showed you your mental and physical strength. Perhaps you failed a math test or English paper because you got overconfident and waited until the last minute to study or write. Thinking about your failures can help you realize what you learned from the experience and how it changed the way you approach challenges.