Structure

Personal narratives are often structured by chronology: first this happened, then this, which led to that. However, narratives can be told through flashbacks, mixed chronology, and even multiple points of view. Of all the short writing forms, the narrative may have the simplest organizational scheme. This probably accounts for its reputation as an easier form than essays organized by other argumentative and explanatory schemes. But don't be fooled: narrative that seems direct and straightforward may have gone through dozens of drafts for the story to seem natural.

Consider also that new forms and formats can bring new life to narratives. In fact, they are generative, creating new insights even if you only intended to alter the form. In the example mentioned before, Joan began to tell her story of life in the donut shop by looking backward, reflecting in the past tense, "I was a Dunkin'Donuts girl," Later, however, she abandoned that perspective for the present tense created by the journal format: "October 23. I've driven into Durham daily, but no one's hiring," One is not necessarily better than the other; each simply makes both writer and reader experience the event from a different perspective.

In looking for your final point of view, focus, or theme, consider playing with the form: What would happen if I told this as an exchange of letters? Could the reader experience it differently if it resembled a drama, with lots of recreated dialogue? Could it be tailored for a column in a magazine, such as "My Turn" in Newsweek?

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