Instructions How to Write

Personal Narrative

Write a narrative describing a turning point, or moment of change—whether it is a lesson learned, a challenge faced, an obstacle overcome, a new understanding, or a reassessing of beliefs or values—one moment of change, growth, learning or insight. It should have a central focus. It’s not always necessary to express the focus in a thesis sentence right in the first paragraph of your paper. You may choose to get into the action and then include the thesis statement (your main idea) in the second paragraph. That’s fine. It should appear though, on page one within the first two paragraphs of this assignment.

It can be a current NYC experience or something from the not too distant past.
A narrative re-creates a personal experience for a purpose, and that purpose is usually to reveal an insight about the action or the people involved, to inspire, inform, or teach your readers about something you have learned or gained insight into and to give your reader something to think about. It may also serve to offer an argument in story form. (Think of the pieces we have read by Orwell, Kincaid, Mairs, and Staples, or Sanders among others). Remember to include details that will reveal something about the character as we saw with Faulkner, O’Conner and Flaubert in their paragraphs of descriptions we analyzed. Setting is also an important part of your narrative. You will want to include your experience of a specific place and bring that place to life in your narrative. So, choose an experience, get your reader’s attention, engage them in your story, show rather than tell (this makes so much difference –always makes your story stronger and more engaging) and “Explode the Moment “ to slow down and describe an important scene with vivid detail. Create memorable scenes with specific detail with the intent to bring your readers into the moment with you. It is often not so much what happened, but how the story is told that will engage the reader. Keep in mind our readings and discussions of beginning and endings, of eliminating clutter, proofreading for comma splices, and choosing details and descriptions that serve to inform as well as describe.


1. Narrative has a good “hook” ie the first sentence or two grab the reader’s attention.
2. A satisfying conclusion that is felt in the gut as a solid ending to your essay.
3. A title that shows you have read the handout “Beginning, Ending, and Titling,” [‘and aspire to some creative effort in your title, as well as the art of a good beginning and good conclusion! (review handout to check how these three things are working in your essay).
4. Well chosen scenes for what is important to show the reader, selecting specific details that describe and inform. You have slowed down and “exploded” an important moment by adding specific detail and vivid description to draw your reader into the moment, show them what you want them to see, and to keep them reading.
5. Show don’t tell! Use specific, original detail and description— avoid clichés. Create visual images and scenes, but review all five of your senses considering which you could apply to a specific scene. As Vonnegut said, think of your reader! It’s more interesting to be shown a scene that you create for your readers to see, smell, feel, hear, touch, and so on, than to simply tell them about it.
6. Include examples of what you’re talking about whenever possible to help the reader understand and see what you mean.
7. Organize your ideas so that your paragraphs flow one into the other in some sort of logical order. This doesn’t have to be chronological order—maybe you’ll decide to start in the middle of the action (in media res) and then explain what’s going on, but you must make it easy for the reader to follow. This is something to look at after setting aside your paper for a few hours—so you get some distance—then go back to it and check--how is the order of my paragraphs, the order of the story working?

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