Sharing our stories and experiences with our loved ones and other people is something we do daily. The topic can be on anything- whether it’s related to how we spent our day or what we like and dislike or what makes us “us”- there can be a long list of topics on which we can talk about if we want. But sharing your experiences and stories in an intimate and personal environment isn’t always necessary, and to be fair, we all are very much aware of it. When you hear someone say, “we learn from our experiences as well as from others,” they are not wrong. In fact, the conversations we listen to and take part in, the stories and letters we read and share- a lot of these narratives leave an impact on us. Among the various categories of narratives, one is known as the personal narrative.
What is Personal Narrative?
If you are not familiar with this term and look up to the net, Wikipedia defines personal narrative as “a prose narrative relating personal experience usually told in the first person; its content is nontraditional.” Why it is nontraditional is because of its approach. As we are talking about a story related to someone’s life, the literature does not fit the typical criteria. To understand it better, let’s first look at the concept of personal narrative in a very generalized sense.
The term “narrative” in this concept may look high and mighty, making you think it’s a part of the traditional literature if you are not familiar with this term. However, believe it or not, we have been accustomed to the personal narrative for as long as we can remember. Remember the stories our parents used to share with us when we were kids? Or the times when our teacher in the classroom started telling us their life story, which came a precious lesson? That’s how long we have been listening to personal narratives. Even during high school and college, when we are given the task to write assignments, we might have written about ourselves and a story that talks about a lesson we have learned in our lives.
If you are a bookwork, you sure have read autobiographies, memoirs, and long-form articles which give you a glimpse of a particular individual’s life, mind, thoughts, and feelings. These works are supposed to make the readers feel connected to the story, making it more appealing. According to Psychology Today, personal narratives allow authors to feel and release pains while savoring moments of strength and resilience. This gives them both the readers and the writers to connect emotionally, even though they have never met the other before.
Further in this article, we will discuss what a personal narrative essay is, how to write one, and look at some examples of a few personal narratives that can help you write one.
What Exactly Is A Personal Narrative?
Aside from the definition that Wikipedia gives us, William Labov defines personal narrative as “one verbal technique for recapitulating experience, particularly a technique of constructing narrative units that match the temporal sequence of that event.” And I personally believe this definition pretty much sums up the meaning of personal narrative in a literary context.
Personal narratives are not just written outside academia. It is actually a part of it. Like I said, in high schools and colleges, we sure get such assignments where we are supposed to write about ourselves. Similarly, when it comes to an autobiography, the writing is the same here as well. Personal narratives can range from simple school essays to bestsellers, and that’s exactly what makes it so different and authentic.
Personal narratives are all about writing one’s story, which focuses on personal growth, reflections, and life-lessons. They are easy to understand and connect because of their simple yet impactful effect, making the readers not look away from the pages. As readers, we can bond with the writer because of the emotions and thoughts they share with us through their words. Our mind blends with their writing, which helps us look at the world from their perspective.
Personal narratives are similar to life stories, according to Charlotte Linde and Jeff Todd Titan. And of course, the stories and other associated discourse units told by an individual he/she has seen and experienced during their lifetime are what writing a personal narrative is all about. When it comes to writing one outside academia, personal narratives are known as a form of journalism or non-fiction works called “narrative journalism.” However, writing a personal narrative during your academic years, your narrative essay should tell a story that is experimental, anecdotal, or personal. Though in both cases, the author can express their emotions and thoughts with a creative approach and present their opinions in front of others.
Personal narratives provide readers with a strong voice and unique perspective of the author, which helps them look at a particular subject matter with a more rational and open mind. The topic or the story they talk about encompasses a specific moment, making it worthy of discussion if they can present it accurately.
Tips To Follow To Write A Personal Narrative
Writing a personal narrative may look easy because of its simple style and approach. However, while writing one, you need to pay great attention to the detailing. A personal narrative can be organized by two coherence principles of life stories: causality and continuity. To simply put, the meaning of causality refers to one action resulting from the other’s action. On the other hand, continuity is the consistent existence of something over a period of time.
Like I mentioned before, writing a personal narrative is like writing your own life story. And to make it more impactful, you need to keep in mind what the readers are actually for. The story is yours, yes. But what you should focus on is how your story can reach the audience.
Writing a personal narrative essay involves both objectivity and subjectivity. Like writing fiction, while writing a personal narrative, you should be well aware of the subject you are going to be talking about. You need to present your words to help the readers understand the importance of the particular event or situation you will further be discussing. As for making your writing subjective, you need to be more precise with your words, conveying your point of view. You are presenting a story in a way, so the choice of words and sentences you make should be detailed enough to leave a powerful impact on the readers and make your point clear.
Some can misinterpret a personal narrative writing style to be simple. However, crafting and writing your words while explaining a very personal thought or experience is more than writing your everyday diary entry. Remember, you are a storyteller here, and this is your creation. That is why it is up to you how you create and present your work, letting the readers connect to you. And if you want to give your best while writing a personal narrative, I suggest you follow a few guidelines. Here are few tips you should follow if you want to write a well-defined personal narrative:
1. BE SURE TO WRITE IT IN FIRST PERSON
This is a fundamental guideline you should definitely follow while writing a personal narrative. Using “I” while writing showcases that you are the author and have the authority to write everything in here. This is your story, after all, so the way you handle your story while talking about your personal experiences throughout that event is up to you.
However, while you are supposed to write a personal narrative in the first person, you should also keep in mind that you don’t end up overusing “I” in almost every single sentence. Adding variations in your writing from time to time makes your style different and unique. But if you decide to use the same manner during your essay or story constantly, it may not leave a lasting impact on your readers.
2. PRESENT YOUR PERSONAL NARRATIVE AS IT IS A STORY
Just because you are writing your own experiences here doesn’t mean you should not show your creativity. Personal narratives are stories in a way, and bringing them to life is the author’s work. Your writing is supposed to reach the readers, and to do so, giving it a well-defined structure is what you should work for.
As a story, your narrative can include different characters, subplots, setting, climax, and anti-climax, which can help you bring it to life for the readers. In the case of an essay, you can go for an introduction, then the body, and finish it off with a conclusion. These features in your writing will help you set the tone of the story and the particular subject you will further be talking about there. The conclusion can tell the readers about the lessons you have learned and how you want to utilize them in the future. This simple yet constructive method forms a compelling story for the readers, giving them a lesson through your own words.
3. BRING YOUR STORY TO LIFE
As I mentioned in the earlier point, constructing a well-detailed story is what you should aim for if you are writing a personal narrative. Giving your story different characters and sub-plots is one way to make your writing interesting. However, there is another aspect on which you should focus- their presentation.
Being a storyteller, you are supposed to take part in the story as one of the characters and flesh out the other characters. The setting around which the whole plot is revolving is another aspect that should be taken into consideration. Writing them down just for the sake of your writing will not be enough. It would help if you tried to present your perspective and showcase other characters’ perspectives and how they are influenced by it. Making the story, characters, as well as the moral lesson one-dimensional, would only be forgotten. Instead, make your writing interesting through developments that will intrigue the readers.
4. PRESENT YOUR PERSONAL NARRATIVE WITH A PURPOSE
Along with your story, you are supposed to show your purpose for writing a personal narrative strongly. Questions such as “why you are writing this” or “what is the purpose behind”- you will have to make it very clear with your words. Mention the key points which give the readers a better understanding of your thoughts. If you are talking about a specific subject matter or incident, you will have to make sure that the readers can grasp your point within the first few paragraphs or pages.
For example, let’s say you write a personal narrative that talks about your experience as a failure. However, the story you write, long or short, you need to remember that you are writing it with a purpose. Let the readers know about your experience, your struggles, and how you overcame them. Talking about your perspective, how emotionally and mentally you battled and worked for your betterment are the key points you should focus on.
5. FOCUS ON YOUR GRAMMER
This is another basic tip that everyone should follow while writing. Surely you don’t expect to present a story or essay in front of someone where you make a number of mistakes. Grammatical errors can happen, and that’s why to recheck your writing before submitting it.
Usually, authors choose to write in the past tense during writing personal narratives because the incidents or experiences they are talking about happened in the past. If you choose to do so, be sure to stay consistent throughout the writing. It helps to separate your current narrating voice from your past self, which you are talking about. Do the same thing if you are writing in the present tense.
6. WRITE IN A CHRONOLOGICAL ORDER
You should also keep in mind in what order you are writing. Let’s say that you are talking about this one incident, which was the consequence of another which happened in the past. While explaining your thoughts and mindset, you will have to talk about what happened before to let the readers understand what you are doing right now.
Chronology is necessary when you are writing a personal narrative. You will have to set the order of your story or essay, which can properly convey your writing purpose. If you end up misplacing or forgetting certain incidents which later take away the whole context of your writing, then what will be the point? Your readers will only be left unsatisfied because of the vague writing style.
7. END IT WITH A PROPER CONCLUSION
While you are writing anything, wrapping up your work is something every author should focus on. If the ending stays halfhearted and uninteresting, it will be why the readers lose their interest.
Whether you are writing a personal narrative as a story or as an essay, you must conclude it with the lesson that you have learned from them. It does not exactly have to be a very positive message either- it should be something that can be considered realistic by your readers. Apart from that, talk about how you have changed through this and how you do things now. It will be the cherry on top.
A Few Examples For Writing Personal Narrative
If you love books and have a huge collection of autobiographies on your bookshelf, you must have realized how these authors have written their works. Any author who describes their life or any experience and opinion usually follow the guidelines mentioned above. Although, it can be hard for some people who have no experience in writing.
If you are new to writing and having a few problems while working on your personal narrative essay, you can look at these few references which may help you out with your assignment:
1. NO MORE REGRETS
This short example will give a lesson regarding how one learns from their mistakes and shortcomings.
“For a seventh-grader, I was an idiot. But what can I say? The circumstances made me into a coward who could no longer stand up for herself. But things have changed.
There was this friend of mine during middle school, let’s call her Jessica, and I adored her. We spent all our time together at school, participated together during different competitions, and it always felt like we were soul sisters because we were so close. She meant so much to me, yet I often felt like I was the only one who had such feelings. A few days later, this was proven right.
It was just another day at school when all my class students were told to give their names for a singing competition. Since childhood, my love for singing has always motivated me to work on my vocals, and when this announcement was made, I was oh so excited to participate and give my all to get the winning certificate. A lot of students were filling their forms and giving them to our class teacher. However, Jessica was not filling one.
When I went to ask her why she wasn’t submitting the form, she told me that she was not interested in that competition. Consequently, not seeing my best friend participating with me made me upset. But I genuinely wanted to take part in that signing competition. I tried to convince her, but she refused and finally even asked me not to do so. I did not understand much back then, but for her sake, I dropped the plan.
A few days later, the name of the contestants was called out. And Jessica’s name was there too. It completely baffled me. I was just so confused as I looked at her with complete shock on my face.
“You told me you were not gonna participate,” I asked.
She replied without any reluctance. “Oh. I changed my mind. I’m just so happy that I was selected!” she squealed with excitement.
I smiled. But honestly, back then I just felt upset. And betrayed by Jessica.
Suddenly, everything started coming back, and I realized how much I held myself back just for her. All the time where I wanted to do something, but she often refused, and when it came to her, she just dragged me along. She knew how much I loved singing, and yet she lied to me. She knew that I’d not participate if she didn’t either, but behind my back, she actually filled the form and submitted it without even telling me.
There was so much I wanted to say to her, but I just stopped. I could not talk. In an instant, I started realizing how many opportunities I’ve left behind just for the sake of our “friendship.” Every time, she enjoyed and achieved while I kept on following her, not even working on my own self.
She had all the praises and achievements and all I was left with was regrets. The missed opportunities could have brought me so much more.
And that was the moment I promised myself, “I will never hold myself back.” I was just a kid with no brain, and yet the long list of regrets only kept on frustrating me. And I couldn’t follow that same path of leaving myself behind every time. I had to make a choice, and back then, I did.
Today, Jessica and I don’t talk anymore. We never fought, but suddenly we became distant because I decided to follow my own path. And so far, I love this. I know that I will miss out on a few things, but that does not mean I can’t achieve my goals. I don’t hold myself back anymore. I don’t follow other’s shadow anymore. I walk down my own path, which suits me the best, and the people who genuinely care for me are still here.
I am glad I changed. The path I have chosen for myself is something that I am proud of. And I no longer feel like binding myself down.”
2. FAILURE TAUGHT ME
The next example is about how failure is the key to success.
“I was never good at Math. Average, yes. But excellent, never. This subject to me was just so dull and unnecessary I never even put much effort into that. And by some chance, I was always able to score up to 65% during maths tests. And I believe this attitude of mine taught me one of the biggest lessons of my life.
When I was in tenth grade, we had our first terms in October. And well, we had our math exam scheduled too. Subsequently, I decided to prepare for my papers just like how I usually did. Thinking “I’ll be able to pass with average marks” was what kept going inside my mind.
However, when my exam date came, and I was finally holding my question paper in my hands did I realize I wasn’t prepared at all. The questions went completely over my head, and consequently, I got the least marks in my classroom. Actually, I barely managed to pass by just one mark.
This moment made me realize how wrong my thinking had been all along. I was never working hard enough, and that’s why I almost failed. Both my parents and teachers were disappointed over my performance, and seriously, I did not blame them. I accepted my fault and the guilt of not doing better.
However, I did not let my guilt stop me from moving forward. I had to do something to restore the faith my teachers and parents had lost in me, so I worked hard. I have never studied mathematics like that before. I put all my blood and sweat to give my best in the finals. I was putting an all-nighter almost four days a week, practicing questions from different publications, and kept on doing so until I believed I could give my all in the finals.
And then, the finals came. I was ready with my questions and answer sheet, and I started writing down. I was so scared. My hands kept shaking and sweating. But then, a few weeks later, my results came. And I had scored 90% in math.
That was the moment that helped me stand back up again. That was the moment I realized only through hard work can I reach my goal. To achieve success, failure is necessary because it teaches us a lesson. A lesson to push our limits and see where our potential can take us.”
So, here are the tips and examples you can look at while writing a personal narrative. In case you were not well aware of this term and style, I hope this article was able to help you understand what writing a personal narrative essay/story is.