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Telling the Story of Yourself: 6 Steps to Writing Personal Narratives

Jennifer Xue

Jennifer Xue

writing personal narratives

Table of Contents

Why do we write personal narratives, 6 guidelines for writing personal narrative essays, inspiring personal narratives, examples of personal narrative essays, tell your story.

First off, you might be wondering: what is a personal narrative? In short, personal narratives are stories we tell about ourselves that focus on our growth, lessons learned, and reflections on our experiences.

From stories about inspirational figures we heard as children to any essay, article, or exercise where we're asked to express opinions on a situation, thing, or individual—personal narratives are everywhere.

According to Psychology Today, personal narratives allow authors to feel and release pains, while savouring moments of strength and resilience. Such emotions provide an avenue for both authors and readers to connect while supporting healing in the process.

That all sounds great. But when it comes to putting the words down on paper, we often end up with a list of experiences and no real structure to tie them together.

In this article, we'll discuss what a personal narrative essay is further, learn the 6 steps to writing one, and look at some examples of great personal narratives.

As readers, we're fascinated by memoirs, autobiographies, and long-form personal narrative articles, as they provide a glimpse into the authors' thought processes, ideas, and feelings. But you don't have to be writing your whole life story to create a personal narrative.

You might be a student writing an admissions essay , or be trying to tell your professional story in a cover letter. Regardless of your purpose, your narrative will focus on personal growth, reflections, and lessons.

Personal narratives help us connect with other people's stories due to their easy-to-digest format and because humans are empathising creatures.

We can better understand how others feel and think when we were told stories that allow us to see the world from their perspectives. The author's "I think" and "I feel" instantaneously become ours, as the brain doesn't know whether what we read is real or imaginary.

In her best-selling book Wired for Story, Lisa Cron explains that the human brain craves tales as it's hard-wired through evolution to learn what happens next. Since the brain doesn't know whether what you are reading is actual or not, we can register the moral of the story cognitively and affectively.

In academia, a narrative essay tells a story which is experiential, anecdotal, or personal. It allows the author to creatively express their thoughts, feelings, ideas, and opinions. Its length can be anywhere from a few paragraphs to hundreds of pages.

Outside of academia, personal narratives are known as a form of journalism or non-fiction works called "narrative journalism." Even highly prestigious publications like the New York Times and Time magazine have sections dedicated to personal narratives. The New Yorke is a magazine dedicated solely to this genre.

The New York Times holds personal narrative essay contests. The winners are selected because they:

had a clear narrative arc with a conflict and a main character who changed in some way. They artfully balanced the action of the story with reflection on what it meant to the writer. They took risks, like including dialogue or playing with punctuation, sentence structure and word choice to develop a strong voice. And, perhaps most important, they focused on a specific moment or theme – a conversation, a trip to the mall, a speech tournament, a hospital visit – instead of trying to sum up the writer’s life in 600 words.

In a nutshell, a personal narrative can cover any reflective and contemplative subject with a strong voice and a unique perspective, including uncommon private values. It's written in first person and the story encompasses a specific moment in time worthy of a discussion.

Writing a personal narrative essay involves both objectivity and subjectivity. You'll need to be objective enough to recognise the importance of an event or a situation to explore and write about. On the other hand, you must be subjective enough to inject private thoughts and feelings to make your point.

With personal narratives, you are both the muse and the creator – you have control over how your story is told. However, like any other type of writing, it comes with guidelines.

1. Write Your Personal Narrative as a Story

As a story, it must include an introduction, characters, plot, setting, climax, anti-climax (if any), and conclusion. Another way to approach it is by structuring it with an introduction, body, and conclusion. The introduction should set the tone, while the body should focus on the key point(s) you want to get across. The conclusion can tell the reader what lessons you have learned from the story you've just told.

2. Give Your Personal Narrative a Clear Purpose

Your narrative essay should reflect your unique perspective on life. This is a lot harder than it sounds. You need to establish your perspective, the key things you want your reader to take away, and your tone of voice. It's a good idea to have a set purpose in mind for the narrative before you start writing.

Let's say you want to write about how you manage depression without taking any medicine. This could go in any number of ways, but isolating a purpose will help you focus your writing and choose which stories to tell. Are you advocating for a holistic approach, or do you want to describe your emotional experience for people thinking of trying it?

Having this focus will allow you to put your own unique take on what you did (and didn't do, if applicable), what changed you, and the lessons learned along the way.

3. Show, Don't Tell

It's a narration, so the narrative should show readers what happened, instead of telling them. As well as being a storyteller, the author should take part as one of the characters. Keep this in mind when writing, as the way you shape your perspective can have a big impact on how your reader sees your overarching plot. Don't slip into just explaining everything that happened because it happened to you. Show your reader with action.

dialogue tags

You can check for instances of telling rather than showing with ProWritingAid. For example, instead of:

"You never let me do anything!" I cried disdainfully.
"You never let me do anything!" To this day, my mother swears that the glare I levelled at her as I spat those words out could have soured milk.

Using ProWritingAid will help you find these instances in your manuscript and edit them without spending hours trawling through your work yourself.

4. Use "I," But Don't Overuse It

You, the author, take ownership of the story, so the first person pronoun "I" is used throughout. However, you shouldn't overuse it, as it'd make it sound too self-centred and redundant.

ProWritingAid can also help you here – the Style Report will tell you if you've started too many sentences with "I", and show you how to introduce more variation in your writing.

5. Pay Attention to Tenses

Tense is key to understanding. Personal narratives mostly tell the story of events that happened in the past, so many authors choose to use the past tense. This helps separate out your current, narrating voice and your past self who you are narrating. If you're writing in the present tense, make sure that you keep it consistent throughout.

tenses in narratives

6. Make Your Conclusion Satisfying

Satisfy your readers by giving them an unforgettable closing scene. The body of the narration should build up the plot to climax. This doesn't have to be something incredible or shocking, just something that helps give an interesting take on your story.

The takeaways or the lessons learned should be written without lecturing. Whenever possible, continue to show rather than tell. Don't say what you learned, narrate what you do differently now. This will help the moral of your story shine through without being too preachy.

GoodReads is a great starting point for selecting read-worthy personal narrative books. Here are five of my favourites.

Owl Moon by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen, the author of 386 books, wrote this poetic story about a daughter and her father who went owling. Instead of learning about owls, Yolen invites readers to contemplate the meaning of gentleness and hope.

Night by Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel was a teenager when he and his family were sent to Auschwitz concentration camp in 1944. This Holocaust memoir has a strong message that such horrific events should never be repeated.

The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank

This classic is a must-read by young and old alike. It's a remarkable diary by a 13-year-old Jewish girl who hid inside a secret annexe of an old building during the Nazi occupation of the Netherlands in 1942.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion

This is a personal narrative written by a brave author renowned for her clarity, passion, and honesty. Didion shares how in December 2003, she lost her husband of 40 years to a massive heart attack and dealt with the acute illness of her only daughter. She speaks about grief, memories, illness, and hope.

Educated by Tara Westover

Author Tara Westover was raised by survivalist parents. She didn't go to school until 17 years of age, which later took her to Harvard and Cambridge. It's a story about the struggle for quest for knowledge and self-reinvention.

Narrative and personal narrative journalism are gaining more popularity these days. You can find distinguished personal narratives all over the web.

Curating the best of the best of personal narratives and narrative essays from all over the web. Some are award-winning articles.

Narratively

Long-form writing to celebrate humanity through storytelling. It publishes personal narrative essays written to provoke, inspire, and reflect, touching lesser-known and overlooked subjects.

Narrative Magazine

It publishes non,fiction narratives, poetry, and fiction. Among its contributors is Frank Conroy, the author of Stop-Time , a memoir that has never been out of print since 1967.

Thought Catalog

Aimed at Generation Z, it publishes personal narrative essays on self-improvement, family, friendship, romance, and others.

Personal narratives will continue to be popular as our brains are wired for stories. We love reading about others and telling stories of ourselves, as they bring satisfaction and a better understanding of the world around us.

Personal narratives make us better humans. Enjoy telling yours!

personal narrative writing assignment answer key

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Love writing? ProWritingAid will help you improve the style, strength, and clarity of your stories.

Jennifer Xue is an award-winning e-book author with 2,500+ articles and 100+ e-books/reports published under her belt. She also taught 50+ college-level essay and paper writing classes. Her byline has appeared in Forbes, Fortune, Cosmopolitan, Esquire, Business.com, Business2Community, Addicted2Success, Good Men Project, and others. Her blog is JenniferXue.com. Follow her on Twitter @jenxuewrites].

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  • How to write a narrative essay | Example & tips

How to Write a Narrative Essay | Example & Tips

Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

A narrative essay tells a story. In most cases, this is a story about a personal experience you had. This type of essay , along with the descriptive essay , allows you to get personal and creative, unlike most academic writing .

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Table of contents

What is a narrative essay for, choosing a topic, interactive example of a narrative essay, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about narrative essays.

When assigned a narrative essay, you might find yourself wondering: Why does my teacher want to hear this story? Topics for narrative essays can range from the important to the trivial. Usually the point is not so much the story itself, but the way you tell it.

A narrative essay is a way of testing your ability to tell a story in a clear and interesting way. You’re expected to think about where your story begins and ends, and how to convey it with eye-catching language and a satisfying pace.

These skills are quite different from those needed for formal academic writing. For instance, in a narrative essay the use of the first person (“I”) is encouraged, as is the use of figurative language, dialogue, and suspense.

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Narrative essay assignments vary widely in the amount of direction you’re given about your topic. You may be assigned quite a specific topic or choice of topics to work with.

  • Write a story about your first day of school.
  • Write a story about your favorite holiday destination.

You may also be given prompts that leave you a much wider choice of topic.

  • Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself.
  • Write about an achievement you are proud of. What did you accomplish, and how?

In these cases, you might have to think harder to decide what story you want to tell. The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to talk about a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

For example, a trip where everything went according to plan makes for a less interesting story than one where something unexpected happened that you then had to respond to. Choose an experience that might surprise the reader or teach them something.

Narrative essays in college applications

When applying for college , you might be asked to write a narrative essay that expresses something about your personal qualities.

For example, this application prompt from Common App requires you to respond with a narrative essay.

In this context, choose a story that is not only interesting but also expresses the qualities the prompt is looking for—here, resilience and the ability to learn from failure—and frame the story in a way that emphasizes these qualities.

An example of a short narrative essay, responding to the prompt “Write about an experience where you learned something about yourself,” is shown below.

Hover over different parts of the text to see how the structure works.

Since elementary school, I have always favored subjects like science and math over the humanities. My instinct was always to think of these subjects as more solid and serious than classes like English. If there was no right answer, I thought, why bother? But recently I had an experience that taught me my academic interests are more flexible than I had thought: I took my first philosophy class.

Before I entered the classroom, I was skeptical. I waited outside with the other students and wondered what exactly philosophy would involve—I really had no idea. I imagined something pretty abstract: long, stilted conversations pondering the meaning of life. But what I got was something quite different.

A young man in jeans, Mr. Jones—“but you can call me Rob”—was far from the white-haired, buttoned-up old man I had half-expected. And rather than pulling us into pedantic arguments about obscure philosophical points, Rob engaged us on our level. To talk free will, we looked at our own choices. To talk ethics, we looked at dilemmas we had faced ourselves. By the end of class, I’d discovered that questions with no right answer can turn out to be the most interesting ones.

The experience has taught me to look at things a little more “philosophically”—and not just because it was a philosophy class! I learned that if I let go of my preconceptions, I can actually get a lot out of subjects I was previously dismissive of. The class taught me—in more ways than one—to look at things with an open mind.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

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If you’re not given much guidance on what your narrative essay should be about, consider the context and scope of the assignment. What kind of story is relevant, interesting, and possible to tell within the word count?

The best kind of story for a narrative essay is one you can use to reflect on a particular theme or lesson, or that takes a surprising turn somewhere along the way.

Don’t worry too much if your topic seems unoriginal. The point of a narrative essay is how you tell the story and the point you make with it, not the subject of the story itself.

Narrative essays are usually assigned as writing exercises at high school or in university composition classes. They may also form part of a university application.

When you are prompted to tell a story about your own life or experiences, a narrative essay is usually the right response.

The key difference is that a narrative essay is designed to tell a complete story, while a descriptive essay is meant to convey an intense description of a particular place, object, or concept.

Narrative and descriptive essays both allow you to write more personally and creatively than other kinds of essays , and similar writing skills can apply to both.

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How to Write a Personal Narrative like a Pro (With Examples)

Last Updated: December 12, 2023 Fact Checked

Template and Sample Narrative

  • Brainstorming

This article was co-authored by Grant Faulkner, MA . Grant Faulkner is the Executive Director of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and the co-founder of 100 Word Story, a literary magazine. Grant has published two books on writing and has been published in The New York Times and Writer’s Digest. He co-hosts Write-minded, a weekly podcast on writing and publishing, and has a M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University.  There are 7 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page. This article has been fact-checked, ensuring the accuracy of any cited facts and confirming the authority of its sources. This article has been viewed 865,755 times.

Personal narratives focus on a particular real life event that was pivotal or important for the writer. You may have to write a personal narrative as part of a college application or as an assignment for a class. To write a strong personal narrative, start by coming up with an engaging idea. Then, write the narrative with an opening hook and a detailed, organized structure. Always review and revise the personal narrative before handing it in so it is at its best.

Things You Should Know

  • Center your narrative around an important moment in your life. For example, you might write about a time you had to make a hard decision or deal with a conflict.
  • Move chronologically through the events you’re discussing. This will make your narrative easy to follow and draw your reader in.
  • Finish with a moral takeaway or a life lesson. What did you learn from these events, and why is it important? How did they shape you as a person?

personal narrative writing assignment answer key

Brainstorming Ideas for the Narrative

Step 1 Focus on a memorable event or moment in your life.

  • For example, you may write about your struggles with body image in high school and how you overcame them in adulthood. Or you may write about your disastrous 15th birthday party and how it affected your relationship with your mother.

Step 2 Expand on an important conflict in your life.

  • For example, you write a personal narrative about your complicated relationship with your birth mother. Or you may write about a conflict you have with a sport you play or a club you are a part of.

Step 3 Think about a particular theme or idea.

  • For example, you may explore a theme like poverty by writing about your family’s struggle with money and finances. You may write about having to defer college applications to work at your parent’s business to make ends meet for your family.

Step 4 Read examples of personal narrative.

  • The Boys of My Youth by Jo Ann Beard
  • Slouching Towards Bethlehem by Joan Didion
  • Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
  • The Lives section of The New York Times

Writing the Personal Narrative

Step 1 Start with a hook.

  • For example, the first line in the personal narrative by Tony Gervino is attention grabbing: “I was 6 when my brother John leaned across the kitchen table and casually whispered that he had killed Santa Claus.” [5] X Research source

Step 2 Set the scene with action.

  • For example, in Tony Gervino’s essay, he sets the scene by providing setting, character, and narrative voice: “It was July 1973, we were living in Scarsdale, N.Y., and he was four years older than I was, although that seemed like decades.”

Step 3 Move chronologically through the events.

  • For example, you may start with an event in childhood with your older sister and then move forward in time to the present day, focusing on you and your older sister as adults.

Step 4 Use sensory detail and description.

  • For example, you may describe the feeling of your mother’s famous lemon cake as “rich and zesty, with a special ingredient that to this day, I cannot identify.”

Step 5 Finish with a moral or takeaway.

  • For example, you may end a personal narrative about your complicated relationship with your troubled sister by ending on a recent memory where you both enjoyed each other’s company. You may leave the reader with a lesson you have learned about loving someone, even with all their messiness and baggage.

Polishing the Personal Narrative

Step 1 Read the narrative out loud.

  • You can also try reading the narrative out loud to someone else so they can hear how it sounds. This can then make it easier for them to give you feedback.

Step 2 Show the narrative to others.

  • Be willing to accept feedback from others. Be open to constructive criticism as it will likely strengthen the narrative.

Step 3 Revise the narrative for clarity and length.

Community Q&A

Community Answer

You Might Also Like

Write a Personal Essay

  • How to Write a Narrative Essay
  • How to Write a Journal Entry
  • How to Write an Epistolary Narrative
  • How to Write an Autobiography
  • ↑ https://www.indeed.com/career-advice/career-development/personal-narrative-examples
  • ↑ https://www.byrdseed.com/writing-better-personal-narratives/
  • ↑ https://grammar.yourdictionary.com/grammar-rules-and-tips/tips-for-writing-a-personal-narrative-essay.html
  • ↑ https://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/17/magazine/lives-a-rats-tale.html
  • ↑ https://open.lib.umn.edu/writingforsuccess/chapter/10-1-narration/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/reading-aloud/
  • ↑ https://writingcenter.unc.edu/tips-and-tools/revising-drafts/

About This Article

Grant Faulkner, MA

To write a personal narrative, start by choosing a memorable moment, event, or conflict in your life that you want to write about. Then, use your personal narrative to describe your story, going chronologically through the events. Try to use a lot of sensory detail, like how things smelled, sounded, felt, and looked, so your readers can picture everything you're describing. At the end of your narrative, include a lesson you learned or something you took away from the experience. To learn how to brainstorm ideas for your personal narrative, read on! Did this summary help you? Yes No

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Writers.com

A personal narrative essay is a form of creative nonfiction writers use to share compelling stories from their own lives. Through the writing of personal narrative essays, writers can examine the events of their own life, and transform their everyday experiences into essays that uncover deeper truths in the world.

There are many different reasons why a writer may choose to share their stories through personal narrative essays. In this article, I’ll define and dissect the different elements and forms of personal essays, discuss when and why this creative nonfiction form may be for you, and share an example. I will also guide you through a step-by-step process on how to write a personal narrative essay.

Note: The terms personal narrative essay and personal essay are often synonymous and will be used as such in this article.

Let’s get into it. What is a personal narrative essay?

How to Write a Personal Narrative Essay: Contents

What is a personal narrative essay?

Why choose to write a personal narrative essay, key fundamentals of the personal narrative essay, personal narrative essay example, how to write a personal narrative essay – a step-by-step guide, various styles of the personal essay, next steps for personal essay writers.

A personal narrative essay is a type of essay in which the writer shares a personal experience or story from their own life. It typically involves reflecting on a particular event, moment, or period and presenting it in a narrative form.

A personal narrative essay is a type of essay in which the writer shares a personal experience or story from their own life.

In a personal narrative essay, the writer often aims to convey a specific message, lesson, or insight gained from the experience. These essays are characterized by their first-person point of view , vivid descriptions, and emotional resonance. They often explore themes such as personal growth, overcoming challenges, or the significance of a particular event in the writer’s life. Nearly all personal essays show a transformation in the writer that occurs as a result of the experience they are writing about.

While a personal narrative essay is a form of nonfiction, it employs elements of traditional storytelling techniques , like plot, characters, conflict , and setting, which allows the writer to craft an engaging, yet factual, story. Additionally, personal essays include a thesis statement and conclusion. Through the narrative, the writer constructs a broader argument, using storytelling as a vehicle to engage the reader. By immersing the reader in vivid, impactful scenes, the writer effectively builds their argument and leads the audience through a significant transformation, which results in a compelling conclusion.

People may choose to write personal narrative essays for a variety of reasons, each driven by personal motivations, goals, and experiences. I started writing personal essays three years ago. Prior to that, most of my writing was fiction based—novels and flash fiction. However, a few years ago, I began to feel a driving desire to write about some of my life experiences. I wanted to share what I’d been through, and find deeper meaning and connection by sharing my personal stories with others.

Here are several reasons why someone might want to write a personal narrative essay:

  • Self-expression: Writing a personal narrative essay allows writers to express themselves creatively and authentically. It provides a platform to share your thoughts, feelings, and experiences in words, allowing you to articulate your unique perspective on the world.
  • Reflection and introspection: Writing about personal experiences can be a form of self-reflection and introspection, a deeper way to examine moments that changed you. It allows you to explore your thoughts, emotions, and motivations, while gaining and sharing insights into yourself, your relationships with others and society at large.
  • The gift of storytelling: Humans are inherently drawn to stories. Readers love to invest themselves in personal essays that propel them through a compelling true story. Your stories are a gift to be shared.
  • Making sense of experiences: Sometimes, you need to write about it to better understand it. Writing about personal experiences can help you make sense of complex or difficult situations. Writing a personal essay may help you process your emotions, analyze events from alternate perspectives, and find meaning in the transformation that resulted from these situations.
  • Sharing learned wisdom and personal lessons: At their core, personal essays are about transformation. Personal narrative essays often convey valuable lessons, insights, or wisdom gained from lived experiences. By sharing your stories and the lessons you’ve learned along the way, you may inspire, educate, or offer guidance to others facing similar challenges or situations. This is how transformation leads to connection.
  • Building connections: Writing about personal experiences can foster empathy, understanding, and connection with readers who relate to similar experiences or emotions. It creates a sense of shared humanity and can help individuals feel less alone in their struggles or triumphs. Some of the best personal essays help readers feel seen and less alone, because they connect their experiences with yours.
  • Documenting personal history: Personal narrative essays can serve as a record of your personal history. These essays preserve memories, perspectives, and insights for oneself and future readers. They capture the essence of a moment in time, providing a snapshot of one’s life journey.
  • Creative expression through storytelling: For writers, crafting personal narrative essays can be a form of creative expression and storytelling practice. It allows you to hone your writing skills in a multitude of ways, experiment with various narrative techniques, and develop your own unique voice and style .

Overall, writing a personal narrative essay offers writers a powerful means of self-expression, reflection, and connection with readers. Whether for personal catharsis, artistic expression, or the desire to share life lessons, the act of writing and sharing personal stories can be deeply rewarding.

Personal essays are a great means of creative expression, in part, because the form offers writers a plethora of ways to share their personal experiences. There are many different styles of and containers in which to write a personal essay, and not a lot of hard and fast rules about how to do so. We’ll discuss some of those options in a bit, but no matter the form, most personal narrative essays contain these fundamental elements:

  • Thesis Statement: Don’t be alarmed! This isn’t the same kind of thesis statement that you composed for high school research papers. In a personal essay, your thesis statement is how you express to readers what you are writing about. This represents the core idea or message behind your story. The thesis statement contains the theme of your essay. While your narrative will likely focus on a specific event or set of experiences from your life, the underlying theme should be a universal truth that resonates with a broad audience.

Including a thesis statement will clarify the purpose of your story for your readers. A strong thesis in a narrative often addresses or reflects on a central conflict, so the initial step in crafting a personal narrative essay typically involves identifying the core conflict in your story. Many personal essays are about an external conflict that in turn causes an internal conflict, which must be resolved by the end of the essay.

  • Honesty and personal experience: Not surprisingly, a personal essay is about your personal experiences. Effective personal essays often showcase moments of vulnerability and self-discovery. Being honest about your experiences, even when it’s difficult, adds authenticity. Often you won’t be the only “ character ” in an essay, as it will feature other people from your real life. Tell your story honestly, but be mindful of others’ privacy and consider if you need consent from family or friends before sharing sensitive information.
  • Pivotal moment: Like in fiction, your personal narrative should build up to a peak moment of tension or a significant turning point. This climax is often the most intense part of your essay and may coincide with an epiphany. An epiphany is a moment of sudden realization or insight. Insight describes those “aha!” moments—places in which you come to deeper realizations about your life, the lives of others, and the world at large. Insights do not need to be massive, culture-transforming realizations. Many moments of insight are found in small interactions and day-to-day experiences. These epiphanies—whether large or small—most often lead to a transformation.
  • Transformation: The goal of a personal narrative essay isn’t just to write down the details of an experience; it’s to show how that experience impacted the writer and led to a transformation. Think of it as the why of your essay; the very reason why you’re writing it. There must be a shift in mindset, values, etc. over the course of the essay. You should not start and end a personal essay as the same person.

The transformation should illustrate the change or growth you undergo as a result of your experiences. Transformation is used to show how the events and conflicts in the story lead to a significant shift in the writer’s perspective, behavior, or understanding of themselves and the world.

  • Sensory details and literary devices: Personal essay writers rely on the use of vivid sensory details and literary devices to recreate pivotal moments from real life in order to bring readers inside their stories. As much as possible, you want your readers to feel your experiences. Focus on all of the senses when writing. Do not just state what happened. Instead, describe what you saw, how it felt in your body, any colors, sounds or smells that were present. The goal is to fully immerse readers into your story.

Along with sensory details, personal essays often include common literary devices, like metaphor and symbolism , to add richness and depth to the narrative, which makes for a more compelling and immersive read.

A great narrative essay example is the piece “Flow” by Mary Oliver, which you can read for free on Amazon .

The essay dwells on, as Mary Oliver puts it, the fact that “we live in paradise.” At once both an ode to nature and an urge to love it fiercely, Oliver explores our place in the endless beauty of the world.

Throughout the essay, Oliver weaves in her thoughts about the world, from nature’s noble beauty to the question “What is the life I should live?” Yet these thoughts, however profound, are not the bulk of the essay. Rather, she arrives at these thoughts via anecdotes and observations: the migration of whales, the strings of fish at high tide, the inventive rescue of a spiny fish from the waterless shore, etc.

What is most profound about this essay, and perhaps most amusing, is that it ends with Oliver’s questions about how to live life. And yet, the stories she tells show us exactly how to live life: with care for the world; with admiration; with tenderness towards all of life and its superb, mysterious, seemingly random beauty.

Such is the power of the narrative essay. By examining the random facts of our lives, we can come to great conclusions.

As I previously mentioned, there aren’t many concrete rules to writing personal essays. However, there are general methods you can use to begin writing your first or your one-hundredth essay. Here is a step-by-step guide for you to try.

1. Choose a Topic

  • What seemingly small life events transformed me in a significant way?
  • When I think of the person I am today, which moments come to mind first that helped form the foundation of who I am?
  • When did something alter my worldview, personal philosophy, or political beliefs?
  • What moment of adversity did I overcome and grow stronger from?
  • What is something that I believe to be very important, that I want other people to value as well?
  • What life event of mine do I not yet fully understand, yet know I was altered by?
  • What is something I am constantly striving for?
  • What is something I’ve taken for granted, but am now grateful for?
  • Select a Central Conflict: Once you’ve identified the experience you’d like to write about, identify a specific conflict or challenge that forms the heart of your story. Remember, a personal essay should show a transformation in the form of growth or change. Ask yourself, how the experience changed you and list the conflict(s) you had to overcome in order to change.

2. Brainstorm and Outline

  • Free Write: Spend time writing about your chosen topic without worrying about structure. Capture memories, emotions, and significant details. Think about the other people involved, and the setting of your narrative. First, write down everything you remember about the experience. Second, make a sensory list of how you felt during this time. What did you see, hear, smell, feel?
  • Create a Narrative Outline: Reread your free write, and highlight the key material you’d like to use and expand on. Next, organize your thoughts into a preliminary outline that details how you’d like to structure your essay. If it’s helpful to get you focused on a structure, your outline should include an introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and conclusion.

For more advanced essay writers, this may be the stage where you decide on the specific container in which you’d like to tell your story, and/or the style of personal essay you plan to use. More on containers and styles of personal essays a bit later.

3. Draft Your Essay

Here is some advice to consider when drafting each section:

  • Introduction: Compose an opening that hooks the reader. Start with a captivating opening sentence that grabs the reader’s attention. Set the scene by providing any pertinent background information, and introduce the main characters, setting, and the initial situation. State your thesis by clearly articulating the central conflict or the main point of your narrative.
  • Develop the Body Paragraphs: Consider how you’ll relay the sequence of events. Will they follow a chronological order or an alternative time structure? Think about what you want to say and the best option for how to develop your story to maintain a clear narrative flow.

While describing key events be sure to use vivid descriptions. This will help bring significant events to life and immerse your readers inside your experience.

As much as possible, remember to show, don’t tell . Use descriptive language and dialogue to illustrate your experiences and emotions rather than just describing them.

  • Build to the Climax: Highlight moments of conflict and build tension as your story unfolds. The climax is the peak of the story, where the conflict reaches its highest point. This should be a moment of transition for the writer. Make this moment impactful and vivid.
  • Write the Falling Action and Conclusion: Describe the events that follow the climax, leading towards a resolution. Show how the conflict is resolved, and how the narrator, you, were transformed by the experience. Reflect on the outcomes and summarize the impact of the events on your life. Reflect on what you learned or how you changed.

The conclusion should reinforce the central conflict or theme of your essay, showing how your story illustrates this point and relates back to your thesis. End with a lasting impression—a thought-provoking statement, a question, or a reflection that leaves the reader thinking about your essay.

4. Revise and Edit

  • Review for Clarity and Flow: Ensure your narrative is clear and logically structured. Make sure each paragraph transitions smoothly to the next. Consider if the structure you’ve selected is working for or against your essay. Do you need to change it? Have you included any unnecessary details that do not move your narrative toward the conclusion?
  • Check for Descriptive Details and Balance: Revision is a great time to enhance your essay with descriptions and sensory details that you may have left out. You may also realize you’ve overloaded on descriptions. Too many colorful or overly written descriptions may detract from the poignancy the story. If so, make cuts to those that are not essential.
  • Refine Your Language: Check for varied sentence structure and precise word choice. Avoid clichés and overly complex language.
  • Proofread for Errors: Look for grammatical, spelling, and punctuation errors. Reading your essay aloud can help catch mistakes you might miss when reading silently.

5. Seek Feedback

  • Consider Sharing with Others: Have trusted friends, family members, or critique partners read your essay. Ask them to highlight the areas of your essay they appreciate the most. If you’re up for it, ask for constructive feedback on content and style.
  • Revise Based on Feedback: Consider the feedback you receive and make necessary revisions to improve your essay. Remember, you are the author and this is your story. You get the final say on how you use feedback from others to revise your essay. Use what resonates most and that you believe will improve your personal essay, then revise. It’s normal to go through many rounds of feedback and revisions to make your essay shine.

6. Finalize Your Essay and Decide if You’d Like to Submit for Publication

  • Polish the Details: Make final adjustments to ensure your essay is clear, engaging, and free of errors.
  • Follow Submission Guidelines: If you plan to submit your essay for publication, follow any specific formatting and submission guidelines required, such as word count, font size, margins, and spacing. Be sure to read these guidelines carefully and follow all of them exactly as stated. ( Here are some literary journals to submit to! )
  • Self-publish: If you’re planning to publish the essay yourself on a personal blog or website, think of a title that suits your story and will attract readers.

As you become more advanced and invested in writing personal essays, you may want to try other styles beyond the standard narrative essay. Alternatively, you may still be a beginner but have an experience you’d like to write about in a more experimental style of personal essay.

Here are four examples of unique styles of the personal essay:

1. The Braided Essay

A braided personal essay weaves together multiple strands or storylines to create a cohesive whole. Each strand or thread of story may be different in terms of subject matter, time period, or perspective, but they are interconnected and work together to explore a common theme or idea. At first, the threads of a braided essay may seem mismatched or disjointed, but a central thread will always braid the strands together.

For more on the braided personal essay, check out our guide by instructor Zining Mok:

Braided Essays and How to Write Them

2. The Hermit Crab Essay

A hermit crab is a form of the personal essay where the writer adopts an external structure or container to tell a personal story. Just as a hermit crab inhabits a shell that was not originally its own, a hermit crab essay uses an existing form—such as a list, recipe, instruction manual, quiz, or any other non-narrative format—to present the writer’s narrative. This approach allows for a unique and often surprising exploration of personal experiences.

3. The Segmented Essay

A segmented personal essay is broken into distinct sections or segments, each focusing on different aspects of the central theme or story. These segments can vary in writing styles, length, and content, allowing the writer to explore a topic from multiple angles or perspectives. The segmented structure can create a mosaic-like effect, where each piece contributes to a fuller understanding of the whole.

4. The Lyric Essay

A lyric essay is a hybrid form of writing that combines the figurative language elements of poetry with the autobiographical details of the personal essay. It often blurs the boundaries between prose and poetry, incorporating lyrical language, fragmented structure, and emotional resonance to explore an experience or theme. The lyric essay is characterized by its emphasis on language, rhythm, mood and the exploration of personal and philosophical ideas, often in a non-linear and associative manner.

Learn more about writing the lyric essay here:

Writing Without Limits: Understanding the Lyric Essay

Personal narrative essays offer readers an engaging look into a writer’s innermost thoughts, feelings, and experiences, which provides a unique and intimate perspective on the chosen subject matter. It’s a truthful and revealing method of storytelling, where the reader is not just an observer but an active participant in the writer’s unfolding transformation. Writing a personal essay is never an easy endeavor, but it can surely be a rewarding one. (You can also have some fun with it, too!)

When you have a completed essay, what’s next? You might be interested in submitting to some literary journals. Here are 24 literary journals you can submit to—we hope you find a great home for your writing!

If you’re looking for additional feedback on your work, feel free to join our Facebook group . You can also take a look at our upcoming nonfiction courses , where you’ll learn the fundamentals of essay writing and make your story even more compelling.

Questions? Thoughts? Please leave any comments below. I’d love to hear from you!

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Elle LaMarca

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Thank you Elle. A most interesting topic. A just completed a poem that falls very closely to what you categorise as the lyrical narrative essay. I never realised at the time that this is what I actually did. What a joy to learn something new everyday.

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Thank you, Philip. What a lovely discovery!

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Strategies for Writing a Personal Narrative Essay

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Prewriting Strategies for a Personal Narrative

Lesson Objective:   To generate ideas based on personal experiences and to begin writing a personal story focused on one particular moment in one's life.

Materials Needed :  paper, pen or pencil, a computer or mobile device with word processor software or application

In order to write a personal narrative, you must choose a personal experience to write about.  There are many different ways to choose the focus of your essay.  Once you have selected a significant moment in your life, you must recall important information about the experience, and then organize the details to make a lasting impression.  Prewriting strategies are writing techniques that help you generate and clarify ideas.  In this lesson, we will explore four prewriting strategies that can help you choose an experience for your personal narrative essay and help you organize information before you write your first draft.

PREWRITING STRATEGIES covered in this lesson

  • EXPLORE TOPICS USING STORY STARTERS
  • Mind Mapping

USING STORY STARTERS CAN HELP YOU JUMP START YOUR THOUGHTS

Often the hardest part of writing a personal narrative essay is choosing what to write about.  Unless you are given a very specific prompt, such as write about the most important person in your life and how they have impacted your growth , it can be challenging to choose an experience.  Try using a few of the following sentence starters or all of them to generate a list of personal experiences you could describe in your essay.  Once you generate a list of topics, choose the experience that is most interesting to you.

  • My best day ever... or My worst day ever...
  • The day my best friend and I met each other...
  • My life was almost ruined when...
  • My most embarassing moment happened when...
  • A neighbor helped me... or I helped a neighbor....
  • I remember a time I overcame a challenge and...
  • When I was born...
  • I told a secret, and... or My secret was revealed...
  • I was afraid, but...
  • The most exciting thing that has ever happen to me is...

Choose one of these sentence starters to begin your personal narrative, or if you have another experience in mind, start by freewriting for five to ten minutes or longer.

FREEWRITE 

10 Minute Timer

Once you write the first sentence, you can use freewriting to generate more informaton about that chosen moment in your life.  The key to freewriting is to continue writing continuously for a set amount of time.  I recommend using a timer, so you don't need to look at a clock as you write.  Write, even if specific details don't come to mind at first.  Here's my example:  When I was born ... Actually, I don't  remember much about when I was born, but my parents told me that I was born a month early.  I was premature according to my folks and my birth records confirm I weighed 4 lbs,. 2 oz.  My lungs were slighty underdeveloped and I had difficulty breating.  I remained in the hospital until I gained weight.  Once I was ovr seven pounds, my parents were allowed to take me home.  The had to build a tent around my crib and keep a humidifier on in side th tent to help my breathe easier  Later, I was diagnosed with asthma.

Freewriting is also known as stream-of-consciouness writing.  The important part is to keep writing, even if some of the details of a moment in your life come from what others have told you about the experience.  Writing about those details may trigger your own memories. Also, do not worry about grammar, spelling, or the mechanics of writing at this prewriting stage.  Just write!  The goal is to write down as much as you can remember about the experience from you own memories or from the details others have shared with you. 

Brainstorming  is when you freely write down all ideas about your topic in the order which the thoughts come to you.  So, after you choose an experience, complete your first sentence using a sentence starter, and/or freely write about the experience for a few minutes, you can use brainstorming techniques to write down more information about any moment in your llife.  There are several brainstorming techiniques. Listing, clustering, and mind mapping are three popular methods of brainstorming.

Listing is a helpful technique to use when your topic is broad.  Your personal life experience is a very broad topic, and you need to narrow the topic to a memorable experience that made a lasing impression.  To make a list of possible experiences, start by making a list of your life experiences that brought you the most joy, experiences that brought you pain (physical, emotional, or social), experiences that helped you grow, and experiences that changed your perspective.  You can either keep writing your narrative about the experience generated from the sentence starter or you can choose a more impactful experience for the listing exercise.  Never be afraid to throw out the first idea for you essay for a better, more interesting idea.

PRACTICE EXERCISE:  Make a list of at least ten experiences that have contributed to your personal growth and development.  Here's my short list:

  • Receiving my first journal as a birthday gift in second grade and beginnging to write poems
  • Baking chocolate chip cookies with my tutor to learn about fractions and ratios
  • Traveling to another country for the first time, while I was in h.s.,  and staying with a host family
  • Being a NC Teaching Fellows, Honors Student, and Black Student Union President and UNC Charlotte
  • Becoming a disciple of Jesus and deeply studying the Word of God
  • Being a member of the Bouncing Bulldogs International Jump Rope Team
  • Moving to Florida and becoming a title processor, working in the real estate industry
  • Teaching at Children's Comprehensive Services of Charlotte and PACE Academy
  • Joining the Visioneers Toastmasters Club and participating regularly in club meetings
  • Giving birth to my son at the age of 38

Most of these experiences are still too broad for a personal narrative essay, since I have multiple stories I can share for each.  Listing can also be used to narrow the focus for a particular experience.  Here's a demonstration:

Selected experience:   Traveling to another country for the first time, while in h.s., and staying with a host family

A list of how I matured through the experience:

  • I traveled with a team, so I learned how to work cooperatively with others to share our skills.
  • I was a junior in high school, and I was paired with an elementary school student to stay with two different host families during the week-long trip.  So, I learned to be responsible for guiding a younger student, set a positive example, and to be flexible.  I also learned to trust others outside of my family.
  • I learned to enjoy and appreciate other cultures, as we attended cultural events and dwelled with two families living on the island of Bermuda.

I could narrow this list of experiences that occurred on the island of Bermuda to focus on a particular event.  For example:  I traveled with a team to Berrmuda when I was a junior in high school to share our skills by:

  • turning Double Dutch and traveler for members of the Bouncing Bulldogs and Double Dutch Forces teams, during school performances for Diabetes Awareness Week on the island
  • teaching primary school students jump rope skills during workshops throughout the week
  • developing new routines that members of both teams could perform for members of the island community

You can keep creating more focused lists (subllists) until you have enough specific detials to write the initial draft of your personal narrative.

MIND MAPPING

Mind mapping  is a more visual brainstorming technique. It can be used to help you think about a particular personal experience more deeply, and well as help you organize details into main topics and subtopic.  You can create a mind map in three easy steps:

  • Start in the middle of a blank page , writing or drawing (a picture of), the personal expereinc you intend to write your essay about.
  • Write down the related subtopics around the central experience , connecting each of them with a line.
  • Repeat the same process for the subtopics , generating leveled subtopics, connecting each of those supporting details to the corresponding subtopic.

Watch the video tutorial provided in this lesson's resource library on "How to Create a Mind Map" , then use the Simple Personal Mind Map Template to create your own mind map for the personal experience you selected.

Once you have applied one or two of these prewriting strategies, use your list(s) and/or mind map to begin writing the first paragraph of your personal narrative essay.  Look for themes present in your list or in the topics presented on my your mind map which can help you formulate your thesis.

Attached Resources

Listing Memories  

How To Create a Mind Map Tutorial  

T-Chart  

File size 70.3 KB

Simple Personal Mind Map Template  

File size 87.9 KB

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42 Personal Narrative Assignments

Descriptive personal narrative.

To synthesize what you’ve learned about description, narration, and reflection, you will write a personal narrative. This is generally a nonfiction, prose essay (similar to a memoir), but your instructor might provide additional guidelines in regard to genre, media, approach, or assessment standards.

Your task is to identify an influential place, event, or person from your life experience about which you can tell a story. Then, you will write a narrative essay that relates that story and considers the impact it had on you, your worldview, and/or your life path. Using model texts in this book as exemplars, you will tell a story (narrate) using vivid description and draw out meaning and insight using reflection.

As you’ll evaluate below, descriptive personal narratives have a variety of purposes. One important one is to share a story that stands in for a bigger idea. Do not be worried if you don’t know the “bigger idea” yet, but be advised that your final draft will narrate a focused, specific moment that represents something about who you are, how you got here, what you believe, or what you strive to be.

Literacy Narrative

Think about your experience reading and writing. Did you want to learn, or was it simply expected of you? Did you in any way teach yourself, or did you learn from a schoolteacher or a relative? What book or other text has been significant to you? Is there a particular writing or reading task that you found challenging?  Write a literacy narrative, reflecting on a significant moment in your writing and/or reading experience. This experience can be from childhood or from the more recent past. As you write, keep in mind the following key features of a literacy narrative: vivid detail, well-told story, some indication of the narrative’s significance.

Be sure to apply the concepts you learn in class to your writing.

Before you begin, consider your rhetorical situation:

Subject:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Occasion:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How will this influence the way you write?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How will this influence the way you write?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Audience:

 

 

 

 

 

 

Purpose:

 

 

 

 

 

 

How will this influence the way you write?

 

 

 

 

How will this influence the way you write?

 

 

 

 

Writing a Personal Narrative

By E. Anderson

This presentation walks students through the process of writing a personal narrative. It introduces and defines the essential characteristics of personal narratives.

Personal Narrative Basic Rubric

Grading Criteria for Personal Narrative
Max Score Description
–/3 (Focus) Personal narrative has a narrative effect. (A narrative effect is the main point of your story—the moral, the message, or the insight you offer.)
–/3 (Development) Personal narrative has details and depth. The setting is used to immerse the reader into the narrative. Narrative focuses on one or two key scenes.The rest of the story is filled in using a method of summary.
–/3 (Organization) Narrative has a clear exposition, conflict, and resolution.
–/5 (Style) Narrative shows, not tells; uses expensive words; uses sensory details; active, not passive; uses figurative language; consistent point of view
–/3 (Mechanics) Personal narrative is free of glaring mechanical and grammatical errors (comma splices, sentence fragments, punctuation, capitalization,run-on sentences, etc.)
–/4 Personal Narrative exhibits quality work.
–/4 (Appearance) Personal narrative is approximately 3 pages, double spaced, titled,12 point font, and written in a Google doc that gives instructor editing rights.
Total:–/25

Pre-Writing

You are going to be doing a fast write to brainstorm/pre-write for your personal narrative. Recall that a personal narrative is a personal story that you share with your audience in order to make a point or to convey a message. The strongest and most poignant personal narratives often result from writing about something ordinary. You may write about the common, but make it uncommon.When thinking about writing a personal narrative remember that it is not just what happens but what you, the author, makes of what happens.

Here are some questions to review before you begin your personal narrative free-write.

  • Tell what you know or have heard about any of your ancestors other than your parents and grandparents. Include significant details when possible.
  • When were you born? What were you told about your birth and infancy, and who told you?
  • What kinds of “make-believe” do you remember playing? What did you find amazing as a child?
  • Recall your earliest memories of school. What do you remember feeling about your first few years in school. What do you remember learning? What do you remember liking about school? What was difficult or frightening?
  • Who were your childhood friends and what did you most like to do together? Who was your best friend and how did the friendship begin?
  • What did you do when you came home from school? Who would be there?
  • Imagine your family during a typical mealtime. What do you see going on around you? What would you be eating? What was regular Saturday like? Sunday?
  • What kinds of music did you hear as a child? Write a memory that involves music.
  • What were the reading material in your home? Who read to you?
  • Were there television shows and movies that made an impression on you as a child?
  • What did “being good” mean in your family? What work was expected of you as a child? What else seemed expected of you as a child, either stated or unstated?
  • What were the historical events taking place in your childhood and how were you aware of them?
  • Tell of time when you gained confidence in yourself.
  • What were some of your fears? Tell about a time where you felt extremely frightened?
  • When were the times that adults let you down?
  • What questions did you have that did not seem to have answers?
  • What were some of the things you wanted to do as a child but could not? Which of them were forbidden to do? Which were unavailable or unaffordable? Which were beyond your abilities as a child?
  • What do you know about your grandparents’ lives? What do you remember feeling about your grandparents?
  • What have you heard about your mother’s childhood? What did you hear about your father’s childhood?
  • What sense about marriage did you get from your parents?
  • Picture yourself as a child. Now imagine that this child is standing in front of you this moment. What would you like to say to this child?

Allow students to use an online timer for their freewrite.   HERE  is a link to one of many online timers.

Peer Editing

This type of peer editing was originally meant to be used in a discussion thread format in an online course. However, these are the questions that peer editors were specifically asked to address in detail. (This was in addition to grammatical and mechanical errors.)

  • What was the NARRATIVE EFFECT? (Recall that the narrative effect is the main point of the story–the moral, the message, or the insight that the writer offers.)
  • Find an element of STYLE that the writer used well. (show, not tell, sensory language, diction, figurative language, point of view, expressive words, etc.)
  • Name one thing that the writer could do to improve this personal narrative.

Self Editing

Students were asked to (1) read their personal narrative out loud and (2) use  paperrater.com .  This is a free web tool that proofreads, checks grammar and offers writing suggestions.

Write What Matters Copyright © 2020 by Liza Long; Amy Minervini; and Joel Gladd is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License , except where otherwise noted.

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Personal Narrative Essay

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Personal Narrative Essay - Easy Guide & Examples

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Published on: Apr 18, 2020

Last updated on: Mar 24, 2024

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A personal narrative essay can be a fun way to share your life story with friends and family. However, most students have no idea how to write a personal narrative essay. 

This can be a challenge. On top of that, it's one of the most common assignments in school.

Is this something that you are also dealing with? Fortunately, you don't have to worry anymore! We are here to simplify the process for you.

This guide will walk you through the process of writing a personal narrative essay step by step. Plus, you can find plenty of examples here to help you get started and avoid common writing mistakes. 

So what are you waiting for, take a step forward to make your essay shine!

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Personal Narrative Essay Definition

What is a Personal Narrative Essay? 

A personal narrative essay is also referred to as short storytelling. It depends on the writer's type of story they want to tell the readers. This type of essay can be composed of the personal experience of the writer. 

A personal narrative essay is usually written in the first person participle. It helps to depict a clear narrative that’s focused on a specific moment.

Usually, high school students are usually assigned to write such essays. Writing these essays helps them to enhance creative writing skills. Also, they help to provide insight into a student’s personal life. 

To write a personal narrative essay, the writer specifies a plot around which the entire essay revolves. Moreover, the plot should also discuss the characters that have played some part in the story.

Sample Personal Narrative Essay (PDF)

How to Start a Personal Narrative Essay?  

The personal narrative essay requires a balance between objectivity and subjectivity. To write about an event or situation with significance, you must first identify what's important to share with the readers.

As with other types of writing - there are some guidelines you need to follow some guidelines. These are;

1. Choose the Right Topic 

A good topic can not just make your essay look good, but also it will make the writing process much easier. Since personal narrative essays are written on personal experiences and thoughts, make sure you choose your most interesting experience. 

Keep in mind that the topic you choose matches the intended audience. It is the reader who decides the scope and success of your essay.

2. Choose a Theme 

You can also choose a theme for your essay. This will help you focus on what you want to say. You can use your personal experiences to explore the theme in depth.  For example, if you choose the theme of love, you could talk about your experience of love with your sister(s).  Alternatively, you can start writing out the story and see if any ideas might relate to a bigger theme. When you are writing, pay attention to any ideas that keep coming up. See if they might be related to a bigger topic.

3. Create a Thesis Statement 

The thesis statement is the most important sentence and tells the reader what your essay will be about.  

In a personal narrative essay, the thesis statement can briefly explore the story's events. Or it can tell the reader about the moral or lesson learned through personal experience. The thesis statement can also present the main theme of the essay. 

For example, if you are writing an essay about your personal experience as a refugee. You may have a thesis statement that presents the theme of freedom.

Check out more thesis statement examples to learn how to write one!

4. Create an Outline 

Once you have your topic, it is time that you create an outline for your essay. The essay outline is an essential element of an essay. It keeps the whole composition in an organized order. 

Also, it helps the reader through the essay. With the help of an outline, a writer can provide logic for the essay. 

Personal Narrative Essay Outline

Being a student, you must know how important an outline is for an essay. It provides an organization with the whole content.

To create an outline for a personal narrative essay, you need to follow the following traditional method.

Introduction

These three major elements of a  narrative essay  are further elaborated down below.

The introduction is the most important part of essay writing. It is the first impression on the reader; by reading this part, the reader decides the quality of the essay. This part should be the most attention-grabbing part. 

It should have an attention-grabbing hook and some background information about the topic. Moreover, it should include the thesis statement, which explains the main idea of your essay.

Keep in mind that the essay introduction should always end with a transition sentence. This will make a logical connection with the rest of the essay. 

Personal Narrative Introduction Example



Body Paragraphs 

After the introduction, the body paragraphs are written. These paragraphs help you to explain the key elements of your personal narrative essay. 

In a standard personal narrative essay, there are usually three body paragraphs. These paragraphs help the writer to describe the subject of the essay in all possible aspects. 

With the help of these paragraphs, the writer describes their point of view to the readers. To support the essay, the time and place of the event happening are also mentioned. Moreover, these paragraphs have all the information about the characters. 

Keep in mind that a body starts with a topic sentence . This sentence is a kind of introductory sentence for that particular paragraph.

Another important thing you need to keep in mind is the order in which you will present the details. Make sure that you use chronological order for this purpose. 

Personal Narrative Body Example

“It was a sunny summer day, and I was feeling particularly adventurous. I decided that I wanted to take a hike up the local mountain, and so I gathered my supplies and headed out. 

I hiked up the mountain trail, taking in the beauty of nature all around me. There were wildflowers growing along the path, birds singing in the trees, and a cool breeze blowing through the air. Eventually, I reached the top of the mountain and stopped to take in the breathtaking view. I could see for miles in every direction and felt a sense of accomplishment from having made it to the top. 

I spent some time at the summit, enjoying my lunch and reflecting on my journey up the mountain. After that, I began my descent back down the trail. As I wound my way down the path, I kept an eye out for any wildlife I might spot on the way. Sure enough, I was rewarded with sightings of deer, rabbits, and even a fox! 

Finally, I reached the bottom of the mountain and headed back home. Although my legs were tired from all that walking, my heart was full from having experienced such a beautiful journey. I'll never forget that hike up the mountain, and I hope to do it again soon!”

In conclusion, you need to provide the climax of the story. 

In this section of a personal narrative essay, you should wrap up the whole story. Do it in such a way that you provide a summary of the entire essay. 

Your conclusion should be just as impactful as your introduction. End with a memorable sentence or thought that leaves the reader with a lasting impression. You can summarize the main points of your essay or reflect on the significance of the experience in your life.

Make sure that you do not add any new points in this part. It will not give the reader a sense of accomplishment and will leave them in confusion. 

Personal Narrative Conclusion Example

“Reflecting on this experience, I am grateful for the lessons that it taught me. It was an important reminder to always be mindful of my surroundings and take time to appreciate all that life has to offer. Not only did I get a chance to observe nature in its finest form but also learn more about myself and what truly matters most in life. Even though it wasn’t easy at first, with the help of friends and family, I was able to overcome any obstacle standing between me and success. This journey will stay with me forever as a source of motivation when times are tough or things don't go my way; reminding me that no matter how hard something may seem, if you put your heart into it anything is possible!”

How to Write a Personal Narrative Essay

A personal narrative essay is considered very good when it is expressive, and the reader enjoys your personal narrative. The key to writing an amazing personal narrative is to use sensory details as much as possible.

An excellent narrative essay doesn't tell what happened. Instead, it shows what happened precisely and how you have felt at that moment.

Here is how you can write a personal narrative essay:

  • Start With a Good Hook 

For any type of essay , a hook statement can be a game-changer. But, particularly for a personal narrative essay, hook sentences are very important. 

Usually, the introduction of the essay starts with this sentence. You may use a famous quotation, verse, or an interesting fact for this purpose. This sentence helps to attain the reader’s attention and persuade the reader to read the entire essay. 

  • Vivid Description 

For a narrative essay, it is a must to be vivid enough to let the reader imagine the whole scene. This is why it is necessary that the writer uses as much descriptive language as possible. 

For instance, if you are writing about a visit to the beach, you can describe how the sun felt on your face. On top of that, making use of strong verbs and adjectives will also help to provide an engaging experience for readers.  

  • Use Transition Words 

For any essay, be it an argumentative essay , descriptive essay , or personal narrative essay. It is very important to have some transition sentences and words. These transition words help to make a logical connection in all parts of the essay. 

In other words, the transition words help to make links between the storyline. You may use transition words like this, however, whereas, therefore, moreover, etc.

  • Add Emotions 

The purpose of a personal narrative essay is to show the reader what and how you have felt. Hence don't forget to add the emotions, as you have to make the reader know about the feelings. 

Describe all of the emotions and feelings using very descriptive words. 

  • Be Consistent 

Consistency is the key to writing an essay in a professional way. Make sure that you don't get distracted by any irrelevant details. 

Stay focused on one single point, and add details related to your specific idea.  Make sure that you inter-link all the events of the story in a regular manner. This will help the reader to relate all the events. Also, use first-person impressions as you are writing a personal narrative. 

You also want to show the reader that you are telling your own story. Make sure that you follow the same participle in the entire essay. 

  • Prove the Significance of Your Experience 

You know that behind every event, there is a reason. Similarly, let your readers know the reason behind your essay and its significance. 

Also, mention that the story you just told was important to share. 

As it is a personal narrative, you don't have to provide evidence to prove the significance of your story. Rather, you have to convey a broader message through your story. 

  • Use Dialogue

Dialogue is an excellent way to bring life to your story and make it more engaging. It can reveal the character’s personalities and add a touch of realism to the essay. 

When you use dialogue, make sure to punctuate it correctly and indicate who is speaking.

  • Show, Don't Tell

When writing a personal narrative essay, avoid summarizing events and simply telling the story. Instead, use sensory details to help the reader experience the story with you. 

Describe what you saw, heard, felt, tasted, and smelled to bring the story to life.

  • Reflect on the Experience

Reflection is an important part of any personal narrative essay. It is an opportunity for you to reflect on the experience you are writing about and what it means to you. Take the time to think about what you learned from the experience and how it has shaped you as a person.

Once you are done with writing your personal narrative essay. It's time that you put a little effort into making it error-free. Proofread the essay more than once and look for minor spelling mistakes and other grammatical mistakes. 

This will ensure that you have written an essay like a pro. You can do this yourself or you may ask a friend to do it for you.

To understand better how to write a personal narrative essay, take a few moments to watch the video below!

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Free Personal Narrative Essay Examples

Examples help you to understand things better; here are a few well-written  narrative essay examples . Read them thoroughly and use them as a guide to writing a good essay yourself.

Personal Narrative Essay 750 words

Personal narrative essays can be long or short. It depends on the writer how they want to elaborate things.

750 Words Personal Narrative Essay (PDF)

Personal Narrative Essay Examples for High School Students

Personal narrative essays are often assigned to high school students. If you are a high school student and looking for some good examples, you are exactly where you should be.

Best Summer Memory of My Childhood (PDF)

Near-Death Experience (PDF)

Personal Narrative Essay Examples for College Students

Being a college student, you will often get to write personal narrative essays. Here are a few examples of well-written personal narrative essays to guide college students.

Climbing a Mountain (PDF)

My First Job (PDF)

Want to get a better understanding? Dive into the wide collection of our narrative essay examples !

Personal Narrative Essay Topics

It is important to choose a good topic before you start writing. Here are some interesting  narrative essay topics  you can choose from for your essay.

  • My worst childhood memory
  • My favorite summer activities during vacation.
  • The first time I had a serious argument with my best friend
  • The first time someone broke my heart.
  • Things I could tell myself.
  • How I balance my family life and my professional life.
  • The most important rule in life
  • Teachers who inspired me in my college.
  • Why I love to write a diary
  • My favorite New York Times Article.
  • My favorite movie.
  • Personal advice for the youth of today.
  • How I overcame my stage fear.
  • The toughest decision I have ever made.
  • What I regret most

Need some inspiration to craft your essay? Our expansive list of narrative essay topics will provide you with plenty of ideas!

Personal Narrative Essay Writing Tips

You need to follow a few things in order to start your personal narrative essay in a proper way. Those significant things are as follows:

  • Think of a memorable event, an unforgettable experience, or any that you want to tell the readers.
  • Plan your narrative essay. Make yourself clear on the order in which you want to mention all the details.
  • Start your personal essay with a hook sentence. This will help you to grab the attention of the readers.
  • Use vivid language so that the reader can imagine the whole scene in mind. Describe the actions, mood, theme, and overall plot.
  • Make sure that you use descriptive language.
  • Use proper sentence structure.

In conclusion,

writing a personal narrative essay can be daunting for many students.

So, step into the world of professional essay writing with our specialized narrative essay writing service . We're committed to crafting compelling stories that capture and engage.

For added convenience and innovation, don't forget to check out our essay writer online , an AI tool designed to refine and elevate your writing experience. Join us today and transform your writing journey!

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Student Opinion

650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing

personal narrative writing assignment answer key

By Michael Gonchar

  • Oct. 20, 2016

Update, Sept. 4, 2019: Check out our newest evergreen collection of “ 550 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing ” that includes dozens of new prompts.

Update, Feb. 15, 2019: Learn more about how to use our 1000s of writing prompts by watching our free on-demand webinar: “ Give Them Something to Write About: Teach Across the Curriculum With New York Times-Inspired Daily Prompts. ”

Every school day since 2009 we’ve asked students a question based on an article in The New York Times.

Now, seven years later, and in honor of the Oct. 20 National Day on Writing , we’ve collected 650 of them that invite narrative and personal writing and listed them by category below. Consider it an update of a previous post, and a companion to the list of 301 argumentative writing prompts we published in 2015.

Here is a PDF of all 650 prompts , and we also have a related lesson plan, From ‘Lives’ to ‘Modern Love’: Writing Personal Essays With Help From The New York Times .

Below, a list that touches on everything from sports to travel, education, gender roles, video games, fashion, family, pop culture, social media and more. Like all our Student Opinion questions , each links to a related Times article and includes a series of follow-up questions. All questions published since May 2015 are still open to comment by any student 13 or older.

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Common core state standards related to narrative writing.

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.W.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, well-chosen details and well-structured event sequences.

ELA Standards: Writing

CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.K.3 – Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to narrate a single event or several loosely linked events, tell about the events in the order in which they occurred, and provide a reaction to what happened. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.1.3 – Write narratives in which they recount two or more appropriately sequenced events, include some details regarding what happened, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide some sense of closure. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.2.3 – Write narratives in which they recount a well-elaborated event or short sequence of events, include details to describe actions, thoughts, and feelings, use temporal words to signal event order, and provide a sense of closure. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3a – Establish a situation and introduce a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.3.3b – Use dialogue and descriptions of actions, thoughts, and feelings to develop experiences and events or show the response of characters to situations. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.3d – Use concrete words and phrases and sensory details to convey experiences and events precisely. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.4.3e – Provide a conclusion that follows from the narrated experiences or events. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.5.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, descriptive details, and clear event sequences. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.6.3a – Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3 – Write narratives to develop real or imagined experiences or events using effective technique, relevant descriptive details, and well-structured event sequences. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3a – Engage and orient the reader by establishing a context and point of view and introducing a narrator and/or characters; organize an event sequence that unfolds naturally and logically. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.7.3b – Use narrative techniques, such as dialogue, pacing, and description, to develop experiences, events, and/or characters. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.3c – Use a variety of transition words, phrases, and clauses to convey sequence, signal shifts from one time frame or setting to another, and show the relationships among experiences and events. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.3d – Use precise words and phrases, relevant descriptive details, and sensory language to capture the action and convey experiences and events. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.8.3e – Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on the narrated experiences or events. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.9-10.3a – Engage and orient the reader by setting out a problem, situation, or observation, establishing one or multiple point(s) of view, and introducing a narrator and/or characters; create a smooth progression of experiences or events. CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.3c – Use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole and build toward a particular tone and outcome (e.g., a sense of mystery, suspense, growth, or resolution).

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  1. How to Write a Personal Narrative: Steps and Examples

    However, like any other type of writing, it comes with guidelines. 1. Write Your Personal Narrative as a Story. As a story, it must include an introduction, characters, plot, setting, climax, anti-climax (if any), and conclusion. Another way to approach it is by structuring it with an introduction, body, and conclusion.

  2. PDF Personal Narrative Essays

    A personal narrative essay uses the components of a story: introduction, plot, characters, setting, and conflict. It also uses the components of argument, thesis, and conclusion. In a personal narrative essay, we tell our readers a story to make a larger argument. Focusing the readers' attention on significant, detailed scenes, we develop our ...

  3. PDF Personal Narrative Writing Assignment

    Personal Narrative Writing Assignment Personal Narratives allow you to share your life with others and vicariously experience the things that happen around you. Your job as a writer is to put the reader in the midst of the action letting him or her live through an experience. Assignment: Your task is to write a story or account of an event you ...

  4. How to Write a Narrative Essay

    When applying for college, you might be asked to write a narrative essay that expresses something about your personal qualities. For example, this application prompt from Common App requires you to respond with a narrative essay. College application prompt. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure.

  5. Steps and Examples for Writing Personal Narratives

    The first step in writing a personal narrative is to make an outline. It should focus on a topic or aspect of the personal narrative that will interest the reader. The outline should be as detailed as possible, and it should also include keywords to designate minor pieces of information. You should also include a body, an introduction, and a ...

  6. PDF UNIT 1

    Read the assignment for Embedded Assessment 1: Writing a Personal Narrative. Your assignment is to write a personal narrative that includes a well-told incident, a response to the incident, and a reflection about the significance of the incident. In your own words, paraphrase the assignment and then summarize what you

  7. How to Write a Personal Narrative: A Step-By-Step Guide

    Show the narrative to others. Ask a friend, peer, classmate, or family member to read the narrative. Pose questions to them about the style, tone, and flow of the narrative. Ask them if the narrative feels personal, detailed, and engaging. [10] Be willing to accept feedback from others.

  8. How to Write a Personal Narrative Essay

    A personal narrative essay is a type of essay in which the writer shares a personal experience or story from their own life. In a personal narrative essay, the writer often aims to convey a specific message, lesson, or insight gained from the experience. These essays are characterized by their first-person point of view, vivid descriptions, and ...

  9. Writing a Compelling Personal Narrative Essay: Tips and Examples

    A personal narrative essay can be best described as creative nonfiction about your experiences. We can help you learn how to approach this personal piece.

  10. Personal Narrative Essay

    A personal narrative is a story written in the first person point of view; it tells a personal story about something that happened to the writer. This means that the story is written, usually ...

  11. Strategies for Writing a Personal Narrative Essay

    Lesson Objective: To generate ideas based on personal experiences and to begin writing a personal story focused on one particular moment in one's life. Materials Needed: paper, pen or pencil, a computer or mobile device with word processor software or application. In order to write a personal narrative, you must choose a personal experience to write about.

  12. Personal Narrative Assignments

    Grading Criteria for Personal Narrative. Max Score. Description. -/3. (Focus) Personal narrative has a narrative effect. (A narrative effect is the main point of your story—the moral, the message, or the insight you offer.) -/3. (Development) Personal narrative has details and depth. The setting is used to immerse the reader into the ...

  13. 2.7: The Personal Narrative Essay

    This means that the story has certain elements, such as descriptive imagery, setting, plot, conflict, characters, imagery, metaphors, and other literary devices. A personal narrative, then, is a work of creative nonfiction that is, well, personal. Usually, a personal narrative is narrated in first-person, though sometimes it can be written in ...

  14. ENG 110 : 110

    Week 4 Assignment Eng 110.docx. Literacy Narrative Katraivia Bell ENG/110 University of Phoenix Myrna Karp July 30, 2023 fLiteracy Narrative On June 9, 2021, I experienced a terrible car accident, that ended up being the very same reason I landed a better job. At the time I was driving.

  15. 4.8: Personal Narrative Assignments

    Recall that a personal narrative is a personal story that you share with your audience in order to make a point or to convey a message. The strongest and most poignant personal narratives often result from writing about something ordinary. You may write about the common, but make it uncommon.When thinking about writing a personal narrative ...

  16. Personal Narrative Essay

    3. Create a Thesis Statement. The thesis statement is the most important sentence and tells the reader what your essay will be about. In a personal narrative essay, the thesis statement can briefly explore the story's events. Or it can tell the reader about the moral or lesson learned through personal experience.

  17. Personal Narratives: Mastery Test Flashcards

    Study with Quizlet and memorize flashcards containing terms like Meg is writing a personal essay for an assignment. What should she keep in mind while choosing a topic?, In travel writing, how can writers best give their readers a sense of the "place" they are writing about?, Match the form of personal narrative with its characteristic. and more.

  18. 650 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing

    Here is a PDF of all 650 prompts, and we also have a related lesson plan, From 'Lives' to 'Modern Love': Writing Personal Essays With Help From The New York Times.. Below, a list that ...

  19. How To Write a Personal Narrative (With Examples)

    1. Choose your topic. Before you start writing, you can choose a topic that will guide your writing. Because a personal narrative is based on your experiences, try to choose a topic you're comfortable with and willing to discuss. It also can help to consider the purpose of your narrative when choosing a topic.

  20. Narrative Essay Worksheets & Writing Assignments

    Narrative Essay Rubric - An easy to use score sheet for grading narrative essays. Download and edit the RTF file to modify the rubric to meet your specific requirements. Writing Toward a Climax - Stories are much better when they have turning points. This worksheet will help students put climaxes in their stories.

  21. PDF Graded Assignment Answer Key

    Graded Assignment Answer Key Planning a Personal Narrative Starter feedback for correct and incorrect answers is in red. Use or adapt the feedback in this Answer Key as you grade each student paper. If you have suggestions for improving this Key, send them to [email protected]. (10 points) 1.

  22. Personal Narrative Writing Assignment by Michelle Austin

    Personal Narrative Writing Assignment about a time when you faced a personal challenge. This assignment requires that the students "slow down" and focus only on ONE particular moment that changed them. ... Answer Key. N/A. Teaching Duration. 2 hours. ... Questions & Answers. More from Michelle Austin See all 41 resources. 31 Followers. Follow ...

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