A personal narrative is often one of the first writing assignments a composition instructor will give. Typically, it is an essay that describes a significant moment in the author's life and demonstrates how that experience changed him as a result, ultimately teaching the reader a lesson. Understanding the elements of a personal narrative can teach you to fuse the power of storytelling with the logic and structure of a traditional academic essay.
While traditional academic essays make their points through a specific thesis and research, personal narratives make theirs by telling a story, using the elements of plot, character, and description. Like any essay, the introduction should grab readers' attention and make them want to read on. Get the audience right into the story by creating a dramatized scene with dialogue or a vivid description of something that will become important later on.
The body paragraphs of a traditional essay advance the author's position by illustrating each point with well researched evidence. In a personal narrative, however, this evidence is the story itself. The challenge is to create a plot that selects the most important details of the event. Instead of simply relating the story in chronological order, you can use dialogue, character, scenes and other narrative devices to advance the story and keep readers engaged.
A personal narrative's conclusion always leaves readers knowing how the events of the story changed the author and what you learned from the experience, including the consequences of this lesson. The ending does not always have to be positive or uplifting, and you do not have to shy away from the truth of what you experienced, even if it resulted in failure or tragedy. Honesty, vulnerability and even confrontation of difficult lessons will make your essay even more poignant.
Good personal narratives use language carefully. Instead of telling readers that you felt sad, for example, you can use words with a somber tone or sound to naturally create that feeling in your audience. At the same time, omit needless words that bog down sentences instead of making them fluent. Tell your story in your own voice rather than dressing it up with flowery language that will ultimately distract the reader.