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Writing the Personal Narrative

Personal Narrative Defined:

The personal narrative is a compositional piece of writing, usually employing the first person, which entails a factual event, incident, experience, or person integral to the author’s life.

“The experiences we have are the basis of our dispositions, our world views, our characters, our ways of thinking, and our ability to undertake and integrate new experiences,” according to George Hillocks, Jr. in his book, “Narrative Writing: Learning a New Model for Teaching” (Heinemann, 2007, p. 1). “They are, in every meaningful way, who we are. When the experience is gone, our memories of it remain and become part of us. The way we integrate them into the stories of our lives determines our identities, how we see ourselves.”

They can serve several additional purposes for the writer, including enabling him to reflect on his experience; re-examine something that occurred in his childhood when he lacked the tools, understanding, maturity, development, intelligence, and even emotional capability; process and resolve misunderstood, emotionally charged incidents; integrate them, and understand how he was shaped by them.

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What he chooses to write may be either consciously or only subconsciously known. If it falls into the latter category, it may become the first step to the revelation of its significance.

There is no such thing as an unimportant topic. If, for whatever reason, the writer chooses it, then it can be considered important to him.

For the reader, it vicariously enables him to purse the same path, experience the event as it then unfolded, share any feelings or sensations, assess potential growth or development, and be rewarded with the insight or wisdom the experience provided.

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Like other writing forms, it can employ expository, narrative, and/or narrative summary types, and, depending upon length, can incorporate characters other than himself, settings, dialogue, inter-personal interactions, interior monologue, scenes, climaxes, and resolutions. It places the reader in the writer’s world for the duration of the story.

Idea Origins:

While it may not be definitively possible to determine the origin of ideas for the personal narrative or any other genre for that matter, they can certainly emanate internally, from a thought generated by the mind or inspiration of the soul, or externally from a countless number of stimuli. In either case, they give the author an opportunity to express, reflect, preserve, understand, work out, or complete something that formed a part of his life.

Ideas can spring from having the writer ask himself what changed him, what caused him to view the world differently, what effect did an influential person have on him, what realization did he have, what was one of his failures or successes, what occurred in his childhood that he has not yet processed, what evoked sadness, happiness, humor, surprise, fright, shame, or pride, what defied his logic or understanding, what reflected his essence or values, what proved contrary to them, and what helped him discover or understand something about himself.

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