Personal Narratives

narrative: n. the general term for a story long or short; of the past, present, or future; factual or imagined; told for any purpose; and with or without much detail.

You are most likely to write personal narratives—that is, writing based on more truth than fiction—in writing courses where your awareness of yourself is often central to your further development as a writer. However, you may sometimes write personal narratives in another discipline that emphasizes self-knowledge, such as psychology, philosophy, religion, education, art, or nursing. Writing a personal narrative implies that you tell some story about yourself, about something that happened in your life or that you witnessed. This experience should be one that has meaning for you, or something you would be willing to explore to find meaning.

In the process of such self-exploration, writers often search their memories and reconstruct believable stories with beginnings, middles, and ends. Some personal narrative writing assumes the first-person point of view ("I"), uses simple past tense ("Last summer I worked at McDonald's"), and is organized chronologically. Other narratives may be told from an objective point of view ("Last summer he worked at McDonald's") or mix chronology (starting in the present and working backward). And, of course, still other narratives include much of the writing in novels and short stories, an enormously rich, complex category beyond the scope of this book.

Narrative writing includes other elements long familiar to all of us: Description fills in concrete detail, sets scenes, and allows readers to see the events narrated. Dialogue provides a sense of the dramatic, the present moment realized, and allows readers to witness people and situations crucial to the narrative. Exposition explains what's going on and helps readers keep abreast of the narrative action. In other words, writing from and about personal experience asks you to draw on many of the same strategies useful in writing critical essays and research papers.

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