Before you can write a personal narrative essay, you need to understand what you are writing. A personal essay is a piece of non-fiction. It is a first-person story where the author shares their intimate thoughts and feelings with their readers. When writing a personal essay, you are writing from a place of vulnerability, opening yourself up to your readers and letting them know that they are not alone in their experiences. A personal essay is a chance for you to use your natural voice and style. It is an opportunity for you to examine an event in your life and to share with your readers how that event has impacted on you and changed you. So how do you write a personal essay?
1. Choose A Memorable Event
The memorable event doesn’t have to be something that lasted a day, or a week, or a year. It can be any of those or it can be an event that lasted just a few hours. Whatever you choose, the event should say something about you and the event must have a clear point. Consider what you want to say about what happened, how you will describe it. Not sure which event in your life to write about? Try memory mining. This is about going beyond the conscious mind and rooting around in your subconscious for those moments in your past that were important. Think about a time in your life, perhaps your childhood. What image comes to mind. Dig deeper into that image. It was powerful enough to push past all the other images. Explore it.
2. Plan The Outer Story
The outer story is the event itself. Map out the chronology of the event. Think about the descriptions you could use that would be evocative, interesting, colorful or entertaining. You want to bring the event to life with your words.
3. Work Out The Inner Story
The inner story is your emotional journey, how the event has changed you, the epiphany you had which is the theme of the personal essay. Bear this theme in mind.
4. Think About Your Characters And Their Traits
Who features in your memorable event? How will you portray them? Know the traits of your characters and how you will display those within your essay. These people are already real to you but you need to bring them to life for your readers. Let your reader know them as you did.
5. Show and Tell
The normal rule of ‘show, don’t tell’ doesn’t apply to personal essays. The nature of a personal essay means there has to be some narration so you need a mix of both show and tell. You want to relive the event itself and show the reader how the event takes place through your narration. But you need to tell the reader how the event you have shown has changed you. The tell part is an opportunity for the reader to follow you as you ponder how the event has changed you.
6. Write-In The Past Tense, First Person
The memorable event has already happened, therefore it is good practice to write in the past tense. Writing in the present tense is difficult to do. And remember this is a personal essay so you are writing in the first person. Use I, me, you and us.
7. Revise Your Draft
Your draft needs to be polished before submission. The first draft of your personal essay was an opportunity to let your writing guide you as to the real purpose of the essay. Consider the story arc and characterization first before moving onto your word choice. Next, consider grammar and punctuation. There are free tools that can help with that. Drill down further and think about whether your setting is appropriate? Is your voice clear? Can you see and feel in each scene, as if you were a fly on the wall? Have you showed the epiphany you went through? Check you have been consistent throughout with your point of view and your tense. Delete any unnecessary words.
8. Read Your Work Aloud
Reread your work aloud. You are more likely to spot any issues compared to reading on screen or on paper.