A personal narrative essay tells the reader your story, so the last thing you want is for it to be boring or dull. Compared with an autobiographical report, which is a simple account of your life, a personal narrative crafts your memories into an entertaining piece of writing. It conveys a life message to the reader, so developing and sustaining the narrative is key to its success. Spend time organizing your ideas into a skeleton structure before starting your essay. This will help you identify links between your memories and your message. Once the ideas are organized, you will be able to concentrate on the creative elements of tone, style and language.
The simplest way to structure a narrative is to write about events chronologically. This is known as a linear structure and can be particularly effective in personal writing in which ideas and memories follow in sequence. Think about the details of your memory. Plot on a timeline what led up to a certain detail and what happened as a result. This gives you a three-part structure for your essay: the set-up, the development and the resolution.
A less conventional approach to personal writing connects events in a non-chronological way. This is useful when establishing links between dreams and reality or drawing parallels between incidents in your narrative. Your structure must juxtapose events so that they peel away layers of meaning to the reader. The message you are conveying should be helped by flashbacks, parallel plot lines or flights into your imagination. A spider diagram is an effective way to structure non-linear events.
A cyclical personal narrative takes the reader on a journey of discovery that ends where it first began. Key events in the narrative should be points for learning so that new knowledge and understanding raises the reader's awareness of your message. Just as the cyclone twists Dorothy and Toto to Oz and back home to Kansas, your cyclical narrative should be structured to return to its place of origin. As Dorothy says: "There's no place like home."
Personal narrative does not have to be restricted to prose. The poetic form, particularly free verse, lends itself well to personal writing. Short forms, such as the haiku or cinquain, do not have enough length for a personal narrative. Plan your personal narrative poem in either chronological, non-linear or cyclical stanzas, using each one to describe a different aspect of your story. Consider different rhyme schemes and use figurative language to bring your story alive to the reader.