Writing a Powerful Personal Narrative Essay – 9 No-Fail Tips

Posted: January 09, 2017 - to Tips
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You have a story to tell. Actually, you have many stories to tell. When you put one of your stories in writing, it is called a narrative essay. There are two purposes for which you will write a personal narrative essay:

  1. As a normal class assignment, generally in a high school or college English comp course
  2. As a part of the application process for undergrad or grad school

In both cases, you will probably be given an essay prompt – something like, “Recall a time when you failed at something. How did you work through that?” or “recall a time when you had to demonstrate leadership skills.,” or “What has been your biggest personal triumph thus far in your life?”

We all approach these types of essays as if they will be easy. After all, we are writing about ourselves, can be a bit less formal, and we certainly know our subject matter. No research, no citations, just easy writing.

Not so fast. While you may have a very clear idea of what is a personal essay, actually writing one brings some challenges that you may not have considered. Here are nine tips for making that essay powerful and compelling for any reader, because that is the real goal of such a piece.

Getting an Emotional Reaction is the Purpose

Whether your personal essay is for a class assignment or as part of an application packet, what you want is for your reader to respond emotionally to what your write – humor, fear/suspense, joy, sadness, etc. So, when you get that essay prompt, think about the emotional response you want as you consider which story you will tell.

Make a List of Possible Stories

We all have a number of incidents and situations that could be used to respond to a personal narrative essay prompt. Begin this assignment by making a list of the ones that will fit. Write down the emotion that you will be conjuring up in your reader with each story.

Tell the Stories Out Loud to Yourself

When you do this, you will soon begin eliminating some of the possibilities. You will want a story that you remember very well, that has plenty of detail, and one through which you can actually get your readers to form a moving picture in their heads as they read it. When a reader can visualize what you are telling, their emotions will be stirred. You will draw them in, and they will be more invested in the tale you tell.

Put Together Your Timeline

This is the equivalent of an outline that you might construct for writing college papers. As you tell the story out loud to yourself, write the major parts down in order. You can also add rich detail as it comes to mind. Having that timeline will mean that you don’t leave anything out. It is also a good idea to tell the story to a friend to make sure that you are not assuming they know something they don’t. When you know a story so well, it is easy to leave out an important part.

Starting with a Hook

You should probably spend as much time on your title and your opening as you do on the rest of the essay. You want a title that intrigues; you want a “bang up” of an opening sentence – a simple short statement that intrigues the reader to want to know more. You can place the reader in the middle of the story, at a key moment, and then backtrack to fill in all of the detail.; you can begin with some surprising detail about yourself as it relates to the story you are about to tell.

Suppose, for example, you have been asked to relate a story in which you used our problem-solving skills to resolve an issue (a favorite topic for admissions essays). You have decided to conjure up the emotion of humor, because you have a funny tale about trying to kill a pesky fly that would not leave you alone. You might begin your essay with, “All I need to know about problem solving, I learned from a fly.” Obviously, the reader is intrigued. From a fly? How could that be? Now you have that reader hooked.

Keep Interest with Rich Detail and Compelling Descriptions

You’ve heard the word imagery. And you have come to understand what it means through reading authors who are masters at painting such vivid pictures that you can actually place yourself in the scene. This is what you are going for as you tell your story. As you begin to relate your tale, get pictures in your mind of each scene, picture all of the detail of that scene. Get those pictures down on paper with all of the imagery you can muster up. If you have difficulty coming up with vivid words, use writing tools for extra help. An online thesaurus is just one tool. There are plenty of others that will allow you to enter a phrase or a few keywords and come up with other, more creative ways to say something.

Add your own emotions to the story. If you are having a battle with a fly who will not leave you alone, what are you feeling? What might you say to that fly who keeps buzzing by your ear or landing on your computer screen as you are trying to work? This lets your reader feel those same emotions and personally relate to what you are going through.

Concluding the Essay

So, what did you learn from this experience? You didn’t learn how to just win a battle against a fly. You developed a problem-solving skill – assessing the options, trying them out, and finally coming up with a plan that let you win the war.

Never Forget the Editing and the Proofreading

Like any essay or paper you write, this one must be perfect in grammar and composition. Yes, it can be more informal, but it cannot be sloppy.

Get Help if You Need it

Not everyone has a creative “side.” And creativity, along with great story-telling techniques, is what it takes to write a powerful personal narrative. If this is just not “you,” then get in touch with an essay writing service, one that has a department of creative writers. You can provide the details of the story you want to tell, and get a custom-written essay easily – one that says what you want but cannot.

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