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Personal Narrative

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Personal Narrative

When you tell a story about what happened to you the other day, that is a form of personal narrative. When you read or analyze a personal narrative, you can break it down into three parts: a beginning, middle, and end. A personal narrative reflects your personal development, although it can explore a larger theme or comment upon a larger event as well.

Personal Narrative Definition

The personal narrative is a mode of narrative writing. It can appear as a story, essay, or a part of either.

A personal narrative is a complete story about one's own experiences.

These experiences can amount to a life story, constitute a single chapter of someone's life, or even describe a single robust event. The definition of personal narrative is broad and can be applied to different aspects of storytelling.

For instance, an anecdote—which is a short, amusing story about someone's experience—might be considered a personal narrative. Although short, an anecdote can tell a complete story about someone's experiences. An autobiography—which is an account of a person's life, writtten by that person—also might be viewed as a personal narrative, although it's likely to contain more references and historical context.

Typically, though, a personal narrative is an informal account. This archetypical personal narrative is essay-sized or longer, capturing the beginning, middle, and end of someone's life—or just a part of it.

A personal narrative is usually a true story, but it can also be a fictional account that reads like a true story.

The Main Focus of Personal Narrative

A personal narrative's main focus (or purpose) is to say something about your life. You might also say something about your role in society, a movement, an event, or a discovery.

A Personal Narrative is Personal

If a narrative does say something about the bigger picture, readers should experience this through the eyes of the narrator… the person! Otherwise, the personal narrative risks being just a narrative.

What makes a personal narrative special is in the name: it's personal. Whatever a personal narrative might say about a culture, place, or place in time—the person is the main focus.

Again, though, a personal narrative does not need to say anything significant. A personal narrative can be a coming-of-age story, a personal learning experience, or any other kind of story where the story is about what's going on inside the person. Personal narratives can focus on growth and development.

A Personal Narrative Is a Narrative

So now you know that a personal narrative is personal. However, it should also focus on the narrative.

A narrative is a story told by a narrator.

A personal narrative is usually told in the first person. First-person narration is told from someone's perspective and uses phrases such as I was, I did, and I experienced. This is easy enough to grasp, but what exactly is a story?

A story is a series of events told with a beginning, middle, and end.

This structure might be incredibly loose. In some stories, it is hard to tell where the beginning becomes the middle and where the middle becomes the end. This might be intentional, or it might be poor pacing. Either way, for these purposes, a strong story has a definite arc.

An arc is a story (a series of events told with a beginning, middle, and end) where the events show a change from start to finish.

Without getting too caught up in technicalities, a personal narrative is a first-person story where the events show a change from start to finish. Creating this is the main focus of a personal narrative.

Personal Narrative Ideas

If you are struggling with how to start your personal narrative, start with self-reflection. A self-reflection looks back at your life and examines how and why you have changed and developed.

Personal narrative, Self-reflection, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Consider what contributed to who you are today.

To start, think about what events in your life shaped your current situation. Did you experience an important city, state, national, or international event that impacted you to this day? Think about big or small changes that shaped who you are on the inside.

Also, consider the scope of your personal narrative. A personal narrative can capture:

  • A moment in your life. Think about something pivotal that happened to you or the people around you. What was that moment like?

  • A chapter in your life. For instance, a year in school is a chapter in your life. Think about a grade in school, a holiday, or a place you once lived. What is a period in your life that fundamentally changed you?

  • Your entire life. Maybe you could talk about your passion, for instance, writing fiction. Describe how your passion grew from a young age to now, using small anecdotes along the way to flesh out your story.

Writing a Personal Narrative

When writing a personal narrative, you want to stay organized. Although you are not formulating an argument with evidence and conclusions, you are creating a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Here is what you should have in each section.

Beginning of a Personal Narrative

The beginning of a personal narrative should include the necessary setup of your story, the exposition. Introduce us to the characters, place, and time of your story.

  • Tell the reader about you and your main characters.

  • Tell the reader where your personal narrative happens.

  • Tell the reader the time period. At least supply your age.

Next, your beginning should include an inciting event.

The inciting event kicks off the main plot. It causes the main character to act.

A death in the family could be an inciting event in a story about personal growth.

Middle of a Personal Narrative

In the middle of your narrative, you should describe your actions and the actions of others. This is called the rising action.

The rising action of a story is the series of choices or events that occur between the inciting event and the end of your narrative.

Think of the inciting event as the start of your personal change, and the rising action of your narrative as the bulk of your change. It's like a butterfly metamorphosing. The inciting event is the big decision to create a cocoon, the action is the change within the cocoon over time, and the result is a butterfly.

In our family death story, the rising action might contain the many struggles that the narrator has with grief. It might include specific low points and high points, but it captures all those "ups and downs" after the death in the family.

Use all forms of description and illustration to bring your personal narrative to life! You might also use dialogue to break up the prose and highlight key moments.

End of a Personal Narrative

The end of your personal narrative synthesizes where you began and where you went, and it concludes with where you ended up.

There are three parts to the end of a story: the climax, falling action, and resolution.

The climax is the beginning of the end. It is the most intense point of action in a story.

The falling action shows the aftermath of the climax.

The resolution ties together the story.

At the end of your personal narrative, you want to demonstrate how your trials (the action) forced you to grow and change. You want to say what you learned, where you ended, and why this personal narrative was important in your life.

If your personal narrative also contains a larger story, such as the events of a cultural movement, you might cap everything off with how the end of your story lines up with that story. Describe how that story concluded or continues on to this day.

Personal Narrative Example

Here is a short example of a personal narrative in the form of an anecdote. The three colors indicate the first sentence of the narrative's beginning, middle, and end (e.g. the first paragraph is the beginning). Afterward, try to break it down into exposition, inciting event, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.

When I was ten, I fancied myself a bit of a pioneer. We had a lake by our house in Lake Geneva, and one boiling summer day I decided to take the family rowboat down the coast all by myself. Needless to say, my family didn't know.

Well, one of my family members did—my little brother. A little more reasonable and cautious than his wild older sister, he stalked after me through the trees. I had no idea at the time, but I certainly did when my rowboat sprung a leak.

Turns out I hadn't taken the family rowboat, but actually a neighbor's rowboat that was about to be dry-docked. I panicked. The still, humid air was stifling and surreal; I had no idea how to stop the ferocious GURGLE of water rushing in. I wasn't far from land but not very close, either. I felt caught in a whirlpool.

Then, my brother showed up with my dad, who swam out to get me. He helped me back to land, and then he retrieved the boat, which he later said probably had another ten minutes before it sank. To my memory, it was a lot worse!

I got chastised, and for a good reason. I'm grateful for the experience, though, because it helped me understand how dangerous even a little bit of wilderness can be. Now I am a Park Ranger on the coast, and I always check whether or not a boat is water-worthy before climbing in to do my job.

Here is how this example breaks down:

  • The first paragraph contains the exposition, including information about the protagonist and where she lives.

  • The first paragraph also contains the inciting event: the protagonist taking the family rowboat.

  • The second paragraph begins the rising action. The brother follows, and the boat springs a leak.

  • The fourth paragraph contains the climax: the moment that the father attempts to rescue his daughter.

  • The fourth and fifth paragraphs contain the falling action: the father retrieving the boat and the protagonist being chastised.

  • The fifth paragraph contains the narrative's resolution: the protagonist's reflections on the events and a description of where she is today.

Personal narrative, Rowboat example, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Use a personal narrative to show how you've changed.

Personal Narrative - Key takeaways

  • A personal narrative is a complete story about one's own experiences.
  • A personal narrative is a first-person story where the events show a change from start to finish.
  • A personal narrative is organized into a beginning, middle, and end. This includes the exposition, inciting event, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution.
  • A personal narrative can capture a moment, a chapter, or your entire life.
  • Use all forms of description and illustration to bring your personal narrative to life.

Frequently Asked Questions about Personal Narrative

The main focus (or purpose) of a personal narrative is to say something about your life. In so doing, you might also say something about your role in society, in a movement, event, or discovery.

The beginning of a personal narrative should include all the necessary setup of your story, or what is called the exposition. Introduce us to the characters, place, and time of your story.

Yes, dialogue and reflections can be included in a personal narrative. In fact, both are useful and welcome.

A personal narrative should be organized into a beginning, middle, and end to form a story arc.

personal narrative is a complete story about one’s own experiences.

Final Personal Narrative Quiz

Question

What is a personal narrative?

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Answer

A personal narrative is a complete story about one’s own experiences.

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Question

An autobiography could not be considered a personal narrative.

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Answer

False

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Question

An anecdote can be a kind of personal narrative.

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Answer

True

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About how long is a typical personal narrative?

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Answer

Essay-length or longer

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How much of someone's life does a personal narrative capture?

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Answer

Any of the other options

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Question

A personal narrative is a(n) _____ story.

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Answer

Fiction or Nonfiction

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Question

The main focus of a personal narrative is _____.

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Answer

To say something about your life.

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A secondary focus of a personal narrative might be _____.

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Answer

To say something about your role in society, a movement, an event, or a discovery

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Question

A narrative has two key components. What are they?

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Answer

It is a story told by a narrator.

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Question

From what point of view are most personal narratives?

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Answer

The first-person point of view.

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Question

What is a story?

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Answer

A story is a series of events told with a beginning, middle, and end.

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Question

What is a (story) arc?

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Answer

A series of events told with a beginning, middle, and end, where the events show a change from start to finish.

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Question

Where do you begin, when thinking of ideas for a personal narrative?

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Answer

Begin with self-reflection. Self-reflection is looking back at your life and examining how and why you have changed and developed.


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What is the scope of a personal narrative?

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Answer

It can capture a moment, a chapter, or your entire life.

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Question

The beginning of your personal narrative should include what two things?

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Answer

Exposition 

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Question

Which of the following would not be considered a personal narrative.

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Answer

An acceptance speech.

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Question

A personal narrative can be a work of fiction that reads like a true story. 


True or false?

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Answer

True.

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Question

The following is not a personal narrative. Why not?


Edward wandered over to the pinball machine. He hadn't played since he was eleven years old. His fingers found the buttons, and suddenly he felt transported back to 1979, and he was now just a child standing in front of his favorite game.

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Answer

It's told from the third-person perspective.

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Which of the following is not necessary for the beginning of a personal narrative.

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Answer

Tell the reader about you and your main characters.

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Question

Where would you find the rising action in a personal narrative?

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Answer

The middle.

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