How to Write Personal Narratives

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Just as a story captures the audience's interest with conflict, memorable characters and a compelling resolution, a personal narrative gives you the chance to share an important moment in your life by engaging readers' imaginations. Elements like dialogue and characterization, as well as special attention to point of view and purpose, can help you craft a personal narrative that shares a piece of yourself with audiences.

1 Choose a Compelling Topic

Your narrative will be most engaging if you write about something of great personal significance. To select a topic, you might try making lists of memorable life experiences, such as unique places you've visited, people who have influenced your life, favorite hobbies or times that you learned important lessons. Then, choose the topic that has the most potential to be developed into a story. On a separate piece of paper, dissect the elements of your story by writing down the primary conflict, characters who will appear in the narrative and why the event or person was important to your life.

2 Craft a Personal Voice

Voice is the infusion of the writer's personality into an essay, using word choice, detail and point of view to make it sound like the author is actually speaking to readers. First-person point of view, the use of the pronouns "I," "my" and "me," is a crucial element of voice for personal narratives because it lets readers see the story unfold through your own actions and observations. Personal narratives are also typically told in the past tense, as though reporting the details of what happened. This allows the author greater opportunity to discuss the importance of the event and reflect on lessons learned.

3 Show, Don't Tell

Good personal narratives don't just recite the events that affected the writer's life. Use sensory details, setting descriptions and dialogue to bring the story to life on paper. If your essay is about a teacher from high school who encouraged you to apply for a scholarship, for example, you might dramatize this moment by recreating the conversation, as well as the setting of the classroom and any memorable details you recall. Your essay should put readers right in the middle of your own story by using detail to help them picture the action.

4 Resolve It With Reflection

When readers walk away from your essay, they should be clearly aware of why your topic is important to you. You'll accomplish this by concluding your narrative with reflection on what you've just told them. Rather than pointing to a specific moral or lesson, try getting more personal by discussing how the experience changed you. Perhaps a summer job as a camp counselor helped you develop better leadership skills, or going on a missions trip for your church gave you the chance to encounter new cultures. Readers will leave your narrative more satisfied if you end the story by explaining the event's significance.

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.