The Personal Narrative Essay Outline
There are two times when you will write personal narrative essays – for a college admissions essay requirement and as a course assignment in an English com class. Usually such essays will be written in response to some prompt and will entail your depiction of an experience or experiences that in some way have shaped what you now believe or value, or even the person you have become. Some students find this type of essays to be the most difficult one. That’s why we have decided to give you some tips and help with it. Whether for admissions or assignment, the personal narrative essay outline is essentially the same and should at least roughly conform to the following structure.
The Hook: Your first sentence should be compelling and make the reader want to continue. Let’s say you are going to present a tale about your travel abroad, specifically an experience of being “pick-pocketed” in Florence, Italy. You might begin with a startling fact about the number of incidents of this crime in a day in that city or the fact that child gypsies are sent out by their families to pick-pocket as a means of supporting those families. On the other hand you may start with a description of your feelings caused by this accident. It will be an intriguing start, because the reader would like to know what the reason for your fear or despair was.
Set the Scene: Here you want to give the reader the general place and time of the experience(s) you will be relating. Sometimes, the experiences may occur over a period of time (for example, growing up in poverty) or they will relate to a single incident (being in Italy for a week as a part of family vacation). You must always include such information in the introduction. The reader should know from the very beginning where and when the action takes place.
The Thesis Statement: They can be a bit different from the statement you would write for another type of essay. You can actually begin your story, for example, “The morning began like any other, with breakfast and decisions about what we would visit that day, but it certainly ended up differently,” or you can offer a lesson learned, “I now know why travelers are encouraged to protect their valuables with one of those pouches that can go inside their clothing,” or some theme that your story will portray, “Hardships and lack make us all innovators of sorts.” It should also be interesting so that the reader would want to know more and continue reading the essay.
Usually, the body paragraphs will tell the story of the experience. However, this is not always the case. Suppose your essay is about growing up in poverty and you have used the theme that this condition turned you into an innovator (your theme). Each paragraph will then provide the reader with an example of how you became an innovator. Perhaps you learned how to fashion “toys” from objects you found in the neighborhood; perhaps you learned how to mix unlikely combinations of food when there was very little in the cupboard; perhaps you started to design and make clothes when there was no money to buy them.
Remember that every argument should always be followed by examples.
Remember to use good transition sentences between your body paragraphs – they can come either at the end of a paragraph to introduce the next one, or at the beginning of the new paragraph with some reference back to the previous one. All the paragraphs should be connected and the narration should be logical.
The other point is this: you need to “show” the reader your story, not just “tell.” You can do this by injecting actual conversation or by descriptions that paint a picture. Remember that you should avoid direct and dry statements here. Show your story in bright colors and use more description paragraphs.
Reflect on your experience(s) by asking yourself a couple of questions. What have you learned? How has your life been impacted? Would you act differently if you could relive that situation again? It’s very important to understand the lessons that you have received. It will explain your choice to write about this event and show that you are mature enough to learn from your experience, even if it’s bad.
Some Additional Tips
Usually these essays are written in the first person, so you will be using a lot of “I’s.” After you have written the piece, go back and see if you can replace some of those “I’s” by altering sentence structure. You may want to use passive constructions here also. There shouldn’t be many repetitions in the text.
You will obviously move from past to present and back to past tenses in this essay, and that is expected. Try to make it easy for a reader to understand when you give a retrospective and when the narration is in the present time. Don’t mess it up too much.
The Ideas On Writing
Some Personal Narrative Essay Ideas
1. Choose an incident or experience that is a bit “extreme” – extremely frightening, extremely humorous, extremely sad or poignant, or different from the experiences that most people have. This will make your narration far more interesting to the reader. Try to avoid boring and obvious things. But also don’t forget to include the lessons you have learned from this extreme experience, otherwise the story will seem incomplete or even senseless.
2. If you are responding to an essay prompt for college admissions, you will have options. For some students it makes the task easier, while others struggle even more with these given options. Read those options carefully and make a list of what you might write about for each prompt. Then review your lists and choose the one about which you have the most passion and emotions. This will make your writing more interesting as the chosen topic will be the most appealing for you.
3. If you are looking at a college admissions essay, and you have time to generate topic ideas, set up a file on your phone. It is with you every day, and you can enter ideas as they come to you. Some people also prefer using notebooks for all their thoughts. Choose the variant that is more suitable for you and write down all the topics that come to your mind during the day. Then, when you get ready to choose a topic, you will have lots of options. You can also try mind mapping to choose the topic you want to speak about. There are a lot of tips and information about mind mapping on the web, so it’s not difficult to find out more about it.
4. If the assignment is due shortly, and you do not have much time, sit quietly some place, go back to your childhood and move toward the present. What incidents or experiences really stick out in your mind? Which do you remember in great detail? These are your options. Consider using them.
This is a rather simplistic explanation for narrative essay construction, but it should get you started. You can find a great guide "how to write a personal narrative essay" on many college websites, so if you need more details, check those out! Also if you find yourself in a situation where you need professional help with writing your narrative essay – don’t hesitate and contact us! Our expert writers will perform an excellent paper for you no matter how short your deadline is and our support team will help you to place an order. They will also keep you informed of all the details of the ordering process. Thus you may be sure that your narrative essay will be written on time in an interesting and exciting way.
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These quick, one-time-only exercises can teach us about ourselves and what we want—and how we can tell our story. The bonus? You might just end up with a book...
By Leigh Newman
What to write: Try to summarize your life in two or three sentences. Take your time. Think about your past. "But mostly think about who you are today and how you got that way," says Roberta Temes, PhD, psychologist and author of How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days. "Maybe you want to focus on a certain relationship, maybe a certain theme...or maybe a feeling that has persisted for years."
Consider these examples before putting pen to paper:
Loving mom who worked all the time, no dad. Never really got over lonely childhood.
Love my life, love my dog, love my kids. No room for a guy.
Finally sober. Exhausting journey. Many regrets.
Beautiful, close family. And then the accident.
Fears and phobias finally overcome, thanks to husband. Still not sure if I deserve him.
Why it helps: First off, if you want to write a memoir, this three-sentence description will form the structure of your book. In effect, it's a supershort story of your life—a beginning, a middle and the now, if you will. Even if you have zero impulse to write another word, however, the exercise can show you how you view yourself, your past and your present, all of which can inform your future. Unless, of course, you change the narrative—a privilege granted to any writer.
What to write: Choose one or more of the sentences below and write a page or two that begins with that particular sentence. Don't worry about bringing up material that you are afraid might be too painful to explore, says Temes. "Please don't bother with grammar or spelling or punctuation issues. "Just write for yourself and for your clarity of mind."
Sentence 1: I was just a kid, but...
Sentence 2: I tried my best and...
Sentence 3: In that moment everything changed.
Sentence 4: It was shocking to find out that...
Sentence 5: It was the proudest day of my life. I couldn't stop smiling when...
Why it helps: Sometimes we avoid the most obvious—and complicated—events that have happened to us, events that inform our whole life story. Let's say your three-sentence exercise was Loving mom who worked all the time, no dad. Never really got over lonely childhood. Maybe you could try, "I was just a kid but..." or "I tried my best but..." Was there something else that happened that prevented you from getting over your lonely childhood? Did it happen when you were a child—or later? Did it involve parents? You don't have to know the answers to these questions. Let the pre-written prompts guide you. "Don't think and write," says Temes. "Just write."
What to write: Take a minute to think about the previous two exercises. Then, please finish this sentence; I'd like to really understand everything that led me to _______________.
Here are some examples (it's okay to add an additional sentence or two):
I'd like to really understand everything that led me to marry Blake. He was so wrong for me and I don't want to make another mistake.
I'd like to really understand everything that led me to choose architecture as my life's work. Did it have to do with the way we lived when I was growing up?
I'd like to really understand everything that led me to become such a good mom, considering I had no role model.
I'd like to really understand everything that led me to never get along with my step-mother. Now that she's gone I realize what a good person she was and how she tried to have a relationship with me.
Why it helps: There's no need to do the actual examination and investigation now. Instead, just focus on identifying what it is you might delve into someday—in a memoir or in the pages of a journal or just in your mind. What truth is important for you to get at? You have a structure (your three sentences), you have a crucial event (that may have caused or contributed to that life story) and now you have a purpose—a reason for writing that will let you learn, enjoy and even be surprised by the story you've been waiting to tell yourself and—maybe, just maybe, the world, as well.
Roberta Temes, PhD, is the author of How to Write a Memoir in 30 Days, which includes other exercises like these.
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