Personal narratives are all about you. Well, actually they’re all about an idea, a truth, a claim, a thesis… but these must be explored through your eyes. Unlike other kinds of essays in which there is detachment, a personal narrative depends on the writer’s personal experiences and beliefs.
Question: Can I use “I” in my essay?
Answer: If it’s a personal narrative, YES.
Question: So am I just supposed to tell a story?
Answer: No. You are supposed to tell a story that illustrates a point.
Build your writing around a central point, a main idea that your story then supports and explains. This is crucial, and perhaps the defining characteristic between a true narrative essay and “just telling a story”. This main idea will be the thesis of your essay, and will say something that the story itself then illuminates, explores and shows to be true. The subject of your essay can be quite personal. In fact, it should; it does not have to capture a truth about humanity as a whole or explain the essence of the human condition. It simply needs to capture a truth about your life, using the story (the narrative experience) to illustrate its importance to you. In this way, it then has meaning to the readers as well. Personal narratives are reflective and purposeful. Things must happen. You have to be part of it or it does not work. Look at the contrasts in the examples below.
- Recounting last year’s Kitara: Just a story.
- Recounting last year’s Kitara and how it brought me closer to my friends: narrative essay
- What happened on our camping trip: Just a story
- I learned a lot about my family on our camping trip: narrative essay
- Technology can isolate people: Great thesis, not even a story, though
- Technology can isolate people. It happened to me. Let me share my experiences: narrative essay
For this essay, there is a firm ban on silly/joke topics. This is not to say that your work cannot have comedy value in the storytelling. Rather, it means that you must sincerely explore a sincere subject. This will be a piece of writing that could serve you well in the future; colleges, scholarships, organizations and competitions often ask for an essay of this type. “Describe a time when you…”
These are actual “winning” sample essays (click for link) by high schoolers for college admissions at Brown and Harvard Universities. Here is another from a Stanford applicant. Comments are included. Please look.
Draft ONE – 9/14 0r 9/15 (Monday or Tuesday depending on A/B). Have in hand a complete, typed, stapled version of your narrative. HAVE THIS PRINTED OUT BEFORE CLASS. Do not expect to print it during class; you will be asked to leave. If you have a software issue, compatibility issue, e-mail issue, any issue, clear it up prior to this day. If you have no draft, you will be asked to leave. Typed work only, please.
Draft TWO – 9/28 or 9/29 (Monday or Tuesday depending on A/B). See above directions
The FINAL is due 10/5 or 10/6 (Monday or Tuesday depending on A/B). The final will be submitted with both drafts included, attached with the FINAL ON TOP.
The writing rubric applies. 50 points max. 5 points each for first and second drafts (on the days they are mentioned due above). This makes a total of 60 points possible. This is a major writing assignment.