The Personal Narrative

Assignment Guide: The Personal Narrative

Assignment Prompt

For this assignment, you will be writing a personal narrative–a story–illustrating an event, moment (or series of moments), or experience exemplifying gratitude. In other words: share a story about a moment, experience, or event where you experienced gratitude either during the experience itself or after the experience took place.  

Assignment-Specific Requirements:

Length: This assignment should be at least 550 words. 

Thesis: Underline your descriptive thesis statement or the point of your story.

Sources/Evidence Needed:  No outside/secondary sources are needed.

Page Formatting: See Appendix C – Formatting and Submitting Your Work

MLA Requirements: See Formatting your Essay: MLA 8th Edition

Rhetorical Mode

A personal narrative is a story about you. Narrative, from the Latin narrare, means to narrate a tale or a story. The narrative you will write will be a “personal” narrative.  Thus, the story will be written by you, about you, and in a lot of ways, for you. What makes a personal narrative so interesting is that it’s a story with a point or purpose.   In other words, a personal narrative is detailed, descriptive, dialogue-driven, and determined to make a point. 

Rhetorical Considerations


There needs to be a reason, not only for writing the narrative, but also for why the reader should read it. The purpose of the personal narrative is to share a meaningful experience and the lesson learned from the experience. Specifically, the purpose of this essay is to share a story about a time you experienced gratitude.


In many ways, we write a personal narrative for ourselves to reflect upon an experience, to grow from an event. However, we want you to imagine that your audience is not only you but someone else. The writer needs to know who their audience is and how their needs will affect the way the narrative is composed and presented. For example, in addition to writing this story as an opportunity for personal reflection, you may also choose a family member or friend group as your real or imagined audience.  Selecting a real or imagined audience will help you develop your essay with the right tone. The tone for a personal narrative can be formal or informal; it really depends on your chosen audience. 


This piece of writing will be presented using a story format.  It will have a beginning, middle, and end.  The story will be written with a clear introduction paragraph, a body of story-development paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph. While a personal narrative is less “formal” than traditional academic writing, your story should have a thesis statement. Thus allowing the reader to truly understand the point of your story.

Six Features of a Personal Narrative

  1. Essay Organization: The Personal Narrative is organized with a clear beginning, middle, and end. It should read like a story–with an exposition, a rise action, a climax, a falling action and a resolution or denouement.  While the Personal Narrative is certainly less formal than other academic essays, the point or moral of the story (i.e. the thesis) should be very clear to the reader.

  1. Transitions: The Personal Narrative utilizes paragraph breaks and transitional words and phrases that help the audience (or reader) flow in and around the story. Read more about paragraph transitions in Appendix A. 

  1. Character Description:  Develop the characters in the story so that the reader has a clear understanding of the people in the story–even if the one person in the story is YOU. Help your reader learn about the characters both by what they say and by what they do.

  1. Sensory Details: Develop a sense of imagery within the story using sensory-driven details. In other words, create a vivid story by helping the reader to see, hear, taste and touch just as the characters in your story do. Sensory details bring your readers into the story–into the experience you are sharing with them.

  1. Dialogue: Use internal and/or external dialogue to connect the characters and help propel the story forward. Dialogue helps the writer to “show” rather than “tell” the story to the reader.  Tips for formatting dialogue can be found in Appendix C. 

  1. The Thesis (the message driving your story): Your story’s point or purpose should be structured as a thesis statement. And this statement should be underlined.  As the direction of your story must be made clear to the reader, it would naturally make sense that the point of your story or thesis appear somewhere within the first paragraph.   

  • Choose an experience that is focused and narrow, as a “too big” experience will result in less development and less detail.  Flesh out the details of a “smaller” story, but an important one.

  • Be sure to use your introduction to “sell” your audience on your topic. In other words, “HOOK” them into your story by providing an interesting and engaging opening paragraph.

  • Draft your story using the first-person pronoun, “I.”  (This will be the ONLY essay in our series of assignments where you can do this, so “I” away!)

  • Be sure that the audience/reader understands very quickly exactly what your narrative will be about with the necessary background information to fully understand that narrative. Give the reader appropriate background, but don’t go overboard. 

  • Your story should have a point, a message, and/or a clear lesson that the reader can understand. In a personal narrative, the point of your story can also be called a thesis statement.  Make sure you make your point or thesis clear to the reader. Most commonly, this statement/thesis is woven into the introductory paragraph. 

  • Use your conclusion to “wrap up” the topic and the narrative. Be sure to return to what the point of your story is.

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