A lead-in on How to write a personal narrative essay


To understand what a personal narrative essay is, one should know what aims it pursues. We offer you a reverse method of identifying the nature a narrative essay. First, we’d like to highlight what a personal narrative does not do:

  • It doesn’t summarize things
  • It doesn’t batter the readers with rhetorical questions
  • It doesn’t focus much on the other’s life experiences

But it does the following:

  • It describes the experience of yours
  • It subtly prompts the readers about your feelings
  • It stimulates them to arrive at their own conclusion
  • It shares the intimate emotions
  • It tells what you have learned and how it influenced your further life
  • It explains the things that are important for the writer
  • It presents the writer’s dreams and intentions

Overall, a personal narrative essay tells a story. The proportion of what it can do and what does not is quite uneven, isn’t it? All you need is just let your ideas flow and keep writing until the end. If you have not still grabbed a pencil to start writing, it means you want to discover more about this type of essay.

So spare a bit of your precious time reading this guideline for a bunch of pithy advice on how to write a personal narrative essay.

Why personal writing is a valuable skill


A great part of academic writing consists of nonfiction tasks. Teachers keep producing vast best-practice recommendations for non-narrative writing as well as the Internet has hundreds of articles that guide students through high-level scientific-like essays.

Therefore students are used to considering narrative essays as something unimportant, old-fashioned and easy-crafted. Schools tend to veer away from personal essays thus disabling the students to develop themselves as original and self-reflective writers. Still, the art of creating a personal narration can open many doors in their life.

Then why learn how to write a personal narrative essay?

First and foremost, it will help you better understand who you are. Many students are all mixed up with a heap of ideas, feelings and emotions that may mislead them in sorting the things out. While practising hard to express themselves in a written form, they become more organized and thoughtful about who they are in this world and who they wish to become in future.

A skill to write a personal narrative essay is essential for getting a job. It is not a secret that hiring managers choose people who can compose a concise CV, a prompt-related cover letter and a catchy resume.

Good writing skills are crucial in modern life. A working specialist has to deal with loads of emails, presentations, reports and so on. Will he go far if his papers have sloppy language and grammar mistakes? Think harder! Your future will be much brighter if you practice narrative writing well in advance.

Tell your story effectively


A recipe of a successful narration has the following ingredients:

  • Clarity. Complex sentences and vague words hinder clarity and should be brushed off your paper. Distribute your ideas clearly within and between paragraphs.

Example: In spite of the fact that I have never participated in the snooker tournaments before, I was enthusiastic to partake, yet I was too overwhelmed because of the crowds of new people there.

Improved: I have never taken part in the snooker tournaments. I was excited to play, but at the same time embarrassed since I was new to that company.

  • First-person narration. A personal story suggests that the readers will absorb the things from the first-person perspective. But writers have a tendency to switch to second-person narration which is ruinous for this type of essay.

Example: As you buy a round-trip ticket when going on a long vacation, you are expected to come back at a scheduled time. You may return it but with some inconveniences.

Improved: I think that buying a round-trip ticket for a long holiday may have certain inconveniences. Moreover, I feel nervous knowing that there is time pressure.

  • Words varied in form. If you do not want your audience to get off to sleep while reading, write dynamically and try not to tell the story in a clinical fashion. Use the language – layperson words, slang, idioms and expressions – that you would use in everyday life.

Example: I was given an array of mammoth tasks that in the actual circumstances were out of my scope of duties.

Improved: They gave me a heap of tasks that actually didn’t come with my territory.

Passive constructions are also not OK here.

  • Avoid describing things of little substance. Remember that you are not writing a novel and have only a few pages to tell about your personal experience. Therefore, you should not focus on each and every moment, in particular, if you are describing movements. Your priority is something that really matters otherwise your readers will get bored before you come up with more important information.

Example: As I entered the room, I looked around and saw that the wardrobe was opened. I also noticed that some pictures above the sofa were missing. Then I opened the drawer and with fear discovered that a box of jewels disappeared, too.

Improved: On entering the room, I saw it was messed up. Soon I realized that some of the things had been stolen.

  • Include quotes but do not cite them. Though MLA format supposes a writer to include citations, you can ignore this rule in a personal narrative essay. You are explaining your personal events and feelings and citations can disrupt your narration. However, if you think that another source was helpful, include it in a reference list after the essay. We call it “Works Consulted”.

These tips will enable you not to fall into the traps that deprive your essays of its success. Try to avoid these errors and your ideas will go smoothly to get the readers in your wishful direction.

A word on writing strategies


Do you fancy what a writing process is going to be? Composing an essay needs two stages – pre-writing and writing it and itself.

Stage 1

First, grab a pen to brainstorm your essay topic. Think of something memorable, beneficial to your development and valuable. It is good to list the events and then to decide on those which are more chronological, interesting and colourful.

Finally, make sure that your topic is meaningful, i.e. has a point. For example, scary stories might teach you something; funny stories tell how you learned a lesson in an ironic or comical way.

Stage 2

This phase includes the following steps:

  • Outlining the essay
  • Drafting
  • Reviewing

As for storytelling, write like this:

  • Show rather than tell.

The main goal of your story is to make the readers feel what you feel, see what you see, hear what you hear and so on. They do not simply have to read but experience the things you have showed them. Make them live your life while they are holding your essay before their eyes.

  • Describe actions and moods vividly.

Don’t write short sentences. Instead, depict everything using complex sentence patterns.

  • Give a full picture of other characters.
  • Tense and voice.

You are re-living the event that already happened. So it makes sense to use the past tenses. A present-tense narration is not for everyone and, honestly speaking, is not a good decision. As for the tone of the story, it determines such things as language use and style. They will vary whether you choose to sound serious, funny or sombrous.

  • Use descriptive language.
  • Include conflict.

Some kind of conflict is essential for a good essay, especially if it relates to your personal experience. It might be a dissonance between two feelings or a confrontation between you and your parent.

  • Show your point.

Your story should have an interesting end. Also, it has to be satisfying for the readers who want to know what lesson you have learned. An indirect, subtle description of your discoveries will work better rather than a judgmental point.

Example: I learned not to judge by appearances.

Improved: If some other day I meet a guy dressed in freakish clothes or tattooed across the whole, I’ll have a closer look at what he or she is in deed and not in external.

Suggestions for personal narrative topics

A personal narrative essay is not only the outlining of the events taken from your life. In fact, it is a reflection that goes deeper external descriptions. That is why you should centre the facts and details on your main point making it appealing to the audience. A successful narration is the one that relates close to the reader's life, too. The more congenial your story is to the others, the more impactful it will sound.

So where to go when choosing a topic for a personal essay? We suggest several options that will help you to come up with it:

  • Turn to your childhood memories.

You may tell about your early perspectives about a particular family tradition, community ceremony or a person who impressed you much. Your goal might be to illustrate your childish vision towards the peers or adults. Avoid being too sentimental and bring into focus the things that have changed you.

  • Recount some significant relationships that have helped you mature.

This experience might be either painful or happy. Nevertheless, it was important for your self-awareness and changed your attitudes towards something or someone. Your story will get more power on readers if you provide them with the description of another person who has contributed to your life experience.

  • Think of a turning point in your life.

Here it is good to use a cause and effect technique as the readers should get a sense of what you had at the beginning and what you became afterwards. You can pick any experience regardless of its length; the main idea is to show its significance for your personal growth.

  • Portray a place that is connected with some fateful and remarkable events.

Your life is not only the people who are near you. Very often we are deeply impressed and influenced by nature, buildings, monuments, surroundings and even things like books, musical instruments, toys, etc. Do not hesitate to choose a place with a negative significance. The life is not always bright and fun so feel free to talk about unpleasant, hateful or gloomy places. The point is to demonstrate its meaning, not its beauty or unattractiveness.

While exploring the topics for your essay, you may refer to the stories of other people. Real books and essays may inspire you more than many theoretical writing guides. For the start, read the essays crafted by diverse people who might be students, journalists, teachers, politicians, actors, musicians and others. For deeper penetration into the fiction world, we recommend getting familiarized with the classic literary works of outstanding writers and essayists such as Clive Staples Lewis, George Orwell, John Galsworthy, Jonathan Swift, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, T. S. Eliot or Virginia Woolf.

A list of popular topics

Feast your eyes on these amazing topics and you will surely invent a title for your narrative essay.

  1. A memorable family ritual
  2. An embarrassing teenage experience
  3. Some exciting moments from my sports career
  4. My first day at a new school
  5. An encounter that changed my attitude to people
  6. A disastrous meeting
  7. When I renewed faith in people
  8. An unexpected turn of events during my overseas journey
  9. My first visit to the
  10. A Family reunion that warms my heart
  11. My first serious failure
  12. A frightening story about terrorists
  13. A moment when my cherished illusions smashed
  14. My secret place
  15. My career goals
  16. A meeting with a fortune-teller
  17. Surviving in an ill school climate
  18. The things I would like to change in my school
  19. My first pet
  20. My acquaintance with a famous person
  21. How I have overcome the betrayal
  22. When I lost my close ones
  23. How I decided my money problem
  24. My first job interview
  25. An account of my first sports competition
  26. An occasion that made me jealous
  27. My volunteering during summer holidays
  28. Why I renewed respect my father
  29. How I survived the divorce of my parents
  30. An encounter that made me study harder
  31. My best Christmas present
  32. Why I hate being alone
  33. My first adult decision
  34. The comic situation at the concert
  35. My long illness
  36. My negative social network experience
  37. The time I had to lie to my parents
  38. People who changed my life
  39. Living in a new flat
  40. Exploring the jungles
  41. A moment when I cried a lot
  42. Why I do not trust people
  43. Growing up in the country
  44. Days with my granny

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