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Writing Tutorials: Personal Narratives and Essays, How to Write a Story

Updated on August 17, 2014

What is a personal narrative?

A personal narrative typically elaborates on an experience that changed you.

What is the purpose of a personal narrative? You are sharing your experiences with interested readers. A reader might learn from your experience or empathize due to similar circumstances.

A personal narrative tells a story from your point of view. Perhaps it was a memorable experience, a challenge defeated or an impressive accomplishment. A personal narrative should illustrate the journey as well as the physical and/or emotional change it created.

All writers have a particular writing style. I for one am a freestyle writer. I choose a topic and let my fingers flow. After I am done it is time to tailor with editing and revising techniques. I literally brow beat myself with constant tweaking. It's madness! Traditionally, my freestyle model would obviously be considered incorrect and is not a textbook model. There is actually a structure and model that is to be followed for any skill. However, free writing is the best way to get started when developing a personal narrative.

Let's look at the model for writing a personal narrative and apply whatever suits your personal writing style. Remember, in the end you are the one writing, editing and publishing. As you develop your portfolio you will find what works for you. The main thing is to not get your genres crossed and leave your readers confused or doubtful of your skills.

Creative Writing Prompts for Kids and Teenagers: Resources for Elementary, Middle and High School Teachers

This hub provides a variety of writing prompts for kids, teens and adults. Prompts can inspire creative writing, a personal narrative or even a poem.

Prewriting: Writing Prompts for Personal Narratives

First you have to CHOOSE a topic. What event in your life is worth retelling? You need to have enough information to be able to create a well-balanced narrative. If you are stuck on developing a topic you'll need to apply a few brainstorming techniques. Things to ponder...

What has been my greatest accomplishment?

What has been the most destructive error I made?

What is an event in my life that my acquaintances would be surprised to know?

When did I feel truly betrayed?

What event in my childhood has created the greatest impact in my adult life?

When choosing a topic think of the standard PLOT model. And choose a topic that can provide value to each stage of Plot -

  • Introduction
  • Rising action
  • Climax
  • Falling action
  • Resolution

If you look at your personal narrative as a short story with a plot it will help you choose a topic with depth and a natural storyline. Your storyline. Think of the elders in your family that are great storytellers. They are great at sharing descriptive events in their respective lives. They carry you through the story with imagery and sensory details. You'll want to be THAT person, but in print.

Free-writing your personal narrative

Yes, you read right - FREE-WRITING. This is YOUR story and you already know the events. Take about five minutes and write non-stop about your event. Tell your story through your words without thinking of conventions. The goal here is to develop your chronological order, jiggle your memory and to prompt your story-line.

After you finish your free-writing draft you'll want to number your key events. Just start at the beginning and place a 1 at the first event and work your way down. After you are done numbering you will want to do a second read through and underline the main idea of each event.

Including Tone and Voice in your pre-writing

Number a paper in list form from one to your last numbered event.

Tone & Mood - Read the numbered events from your free-writing draft. On your blank list write one or two words that describe your mood or attitude during that particular event. Example; I was sad or confused. I was angry or bewildered. Work your way down the list.

Sensory Details - Think of your five senses - sight, smell, taste, touch, and hearing. Work your way down your list and try to add a sensory detail for each event. For example; The house smelled of cinnamon as Grandmother prepared an apple pie for the reunion. These events and sensory details may seem unnecessary to some, but sensory details will provide depth and imagery for your readers.

Descriptive and Figurative Language - Be creative! Descriptive and figurative language will add depth and imagery.

Need resources on how to be descriptive? If you have not read the previous tutorials you might want to look at Describing a Character or Describing Setting. I offer a guide of what to consider when developing descriptive language. I also include a variety of examples. Again, just because your narrative is non-fiction it doesn't mean it can't include imagery through descriptive language.

Take a look at your free writing and at your list and begin writing and organizing your personal narrative. Keep chronological order in mind and be vigilant of providing an evocative personal narrative for your reader. Apply your tone and mood words where relevant and lace in a few sensory details. I like to tell my students. Not only do I want to read your narrative I want to see it.

Editing and Revising your personal narrative

The standard model for evaluating your narratives should include the following five traits

  • Focus and Coherence
  • Organization
  • Development and Progression of Ideas
  • Tone & Voice
  • Conventions

Writing Analysis

Analysis of your writing

As I have said before, if you are writing a personal narrative you need to help your reader connect with your life and experiences through your descriptive writing style.

Let's use the five-trait model as I guide you through things to consider,

Focus and Coherence - Is the main idea clear and supported with text and supporting details? Did you apply effective use of sensory details, characterization and setting?

Organization - Is the order of your text logical? Can the reader follow your flashbacks, foreshadowing and events?

Progression of Ideas - Are your literary devices helpful or hindering? Does the reader understand the changes you experienced?

Voice & Tone - Is your tone appropriate? Does the reader understand your perspective?

Conventions - Do you have any grammatical errors, formatting issues or spelling mistakes? Are pronouns used excessively? Are verbs used in the appropriate tense?

Have students analyze their own writing.
Have students analyze their own writing. | Source

All MissOlive hubs are authored by, marisa hammond olivares - copyright 2011


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    • Jlbowden profile image

      James Bowden 

      5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Another gem of an article among the so many other tutorial related articles, that you have already shared with your readers here Miss Olive. Couldn't help but to find this one just as useful and awesome to add!


    • Jlbowden profile image

      James Bowden 

      5 years ago from Long Island, New York

      Another excellently LAID out tutorial Miss Olive among the many articles of yours, that I have already found very beneficial . Thank you again for the many awesome and useful tips that you have also included in this tutorial.

      Put together in such an organized and easy to follow format for those newbies looking to hone the perfect short story or memoir. Couldn't help not to vote this one 2 thumbs up! (;


    • profile image

      Kimberly Kardashian 

      7 years ago

      This was not useful for my 2 little sisters kendal and kylie);

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      Leveris Steele, thank you so much! Glad to share.

    • Levertis Steele profile image

      Levertis Steele 

      7 years ago from Southern Clime

      What a great resource for writers! Thanks for sharing.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      FaithDream, Thank you so much for your lovely compliment - I'm touched and honored.

    • FaithDream profile image


      7 years ago from (Midwest) USA

      Great information missolive. As usual, I'm quite impressed. You successfully grabbed my attention with all the tidbits and tools for us writers.

      Thank you for sharing these ideas.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      7 years ago from Texas

      mary615 - Thank you Mary! I appreciate all of your bookmarks and support. I hope you'll be able to use a bookmark feature on your computer's toolbar since HP no long has the bookmark option. Thanks for stopping by. :)

      B. Leekley - Thank you very much Mr. Leekley. It is always a pleasure to spot you on one of my hubs. Have a wonderful day. :)

    • B. Leekley profile image

      Brian Leekley 

      7 years ago from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA

      This hub is very helpful. Thanks.

    • mary615 profile image

      Mary Hyatt 

      8 years ago from Florida

      Miss Olive, thanks for much for all this info. This is another one I've bookmarked "Miss Olive"!

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Realhousewife - Thank you Kelly!! You are one of my favorite 'students' !!! :) I love learning from you too!!!

      910chris - Hi, I use a photo capsule for those. I have a hub called 'How to Create Personalized Headers' I have a link to it just above my last picture. They are really easy to make. :)

    • 910chris profile image


      8 years ago from North Carolina

      How are you able to make those new paragraph boxes? I can't find those options.

    • RealHousewife profile image

      Kelly Umphenour 

      8 years ago from St. Louis, MO

      Awesome! Another great free leaning hub! Lol. You are an amazing!

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Just Ask Susan - Thank you Susan. I greatly appreciate the comment and the bookmark. Glad to know you'll be back :)

      savingkathy - The related writing hubs include describing setting and describing a character. I hope you enjoy them Thank you for reading and the votes.

      Sinea Pies - Isn't habee awesome? Thanks for the 'stumble' and votes. Nice seeing you Sinea

      Ehtesham12 - glad to hear it - thank you

      jeyaramd - always a thrill to spot you on my hubs. I greatly appreciate your support. I'm sure you will write many wonderful narratives

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Your hub is packed full of very useful and helpful information. I've bookmarked this so that I can come back again and re-read it in the near future. Thanks so much.

    • savingkathy profile image

      Kathy Sima 

      8 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Great hub! I look forward to reading some of your other writing tutorials. Voted up and useful!

    • Sinea Pies profile image

      Sinea Pies 

      8 years ago from Northeastern United States

      Very nice hub as usual, missolive. And, yes, I am one of Habee's zillion followers. She is such a great example.

      Voted up and useful and I'm Stumbling this one, too.

    • Ehtesham12 profile image


      8 years ago from Islambad

      Useful hub.Thanks for sharing.I learn from very much from your hubs. :)

    • jeyaramd profile image


      8 years ago from Mississauga, Ontario

      Thanks for sharing your wealth of information. You really are generous. I haven't written a personal narrative in a long time. Perhaps, I shall try one for the new year. I will keep remember your hub. Thanks so much. Voted up.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      PDXKaraokeGuy - Thank you!

      Bbudoyono - You are quite welcome - glad to share

    • Bbudoyono profile image


      8 years ago

      Excellent hub. Thanks a lot for writing it.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      8 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      I appreciated your comments. Keep up the good work!

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Thanks for the reminder PDX - I just left you two comments - will check back with you later

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      8 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      I look forward to your comments, and to reading more of your hubs!

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      PDXKaraokeGuy - Thank you so much for stopping by. I look forward to reading your poetry hubs.

    • PDXKaraokeGuy profile image

      Justin W Price 

      8 years ago from Juneau, Alaska

      These are great. Have you seen my hubs on writing poetry?

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      homesteadbound - Thank you! Glad to see you have bookmarked this one. Glad to share too :) You've got some great hubs out there yourself - honored. I clicked the "hubs" link and you were right there on top with one of your hubs (hubba bubba). congrats!

      Nell Rose - You Rock! Whatever you are doing it is working! Every time I check out out the "Hubbers" link you are almost always on the first or second page. That's AWESOME! Free writing is for me, but sometimes we need to reel it in for some structure. I'm not much for rules either, but it is nice to understand and tweak the traditional fundamentals of writing. Glad to see you stopped by.

    • Nell Rose profile image

      Nell Rose 

      8 years ago from England

      Hi, this is really helpful, I am free style, I don't keep to any rules, but as you say when you are writing a long piece for instance then you have to stick to a certain layout and the rules so that the reader can keep up with you, love the advice, love the layout, (blue dividers) and rating it up! and bookmarking! lol

    • homesteadbound profile image

      Cindy Murdoch 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Wow, what a great hub! This is really great. I am learning so much from this series. I am bookmarking them all and will be doing many fo the exercises going through my little MissOlive mini-writing course. I'm really looking forward to that. Thanks for taking the time to share this information.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      fpherj48 - your comment could not warm my heart more. I send you a heartfelt thank you. It brings me great pleasure to know that I have provided knowledge or assistance. Habee is wonderful - you are going to enjoy following her. She is an awe inspiring resource and role model.

      Peace to you, MissOlive

    • fpherj48 profile image


      8 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

      Hello missolive and Thank you for this wonderfully written informational hub. You have educated me and I am a lover of knowledge....ALL knowledge. The more I can learn each day I breathe, the happier and more fulfilled I become. Hubpages has been very good for me in terms of being able to visit the many authors in our community, read their great hubs, comment and communicate. It's almost like traveling the world! Today I am glad I found your hub, gotten to know a bit about you and let me say Thank you for introducing me to Habee....TWO new talents for me to follow. Peace!!

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Melovy - what a wonderful comment. I'm glad you mentioned Brand's book. I have found some very interesting and useful vintage books over the years. I also enjoyed your comment on the right and left brain - it makes perfect sense.

      You reminded me of an upcoming assignment. My students are prompted to write about their Thanksgiving meals. When it comes time to edit and revise I ask them, "Can you smell and taste the food in your writing?" I LOVE sensory details! :)

    • Melovy profile image

      Yvonne Spence 

      8 years ago from UK

      I totally am with you with regards to free writing. I’ve taught creative writing to both adults and children and this worked for everyone I taught, and it works for me. I first read about it in a book written in the 1930’s by Dorothea Brand. I think it was called “Becoming a Writer.” Free writing lets the unconscious mind, or right brain, to get the creative juices going. Then you use the conscious mind to tidy everything up in revision.

      I also think your suggestion about using all 5 senses in writing is something that is often overlooked, but that makes a huge difference to the engagement of the reader. If your writing can evoke a smell, that really gets your reader involved.

      Very useful hub.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Techbook - I tease my students and tell them, "if you ever see a jar of Time & Patience at the store please buy me some" - yes, I'm actually pretty patient. Hard on myself though. I'm glad to see you are reading the series. I hope you find them beneficial - glad to have a techie follower on the hub ;)

    • Techbook profile image


      8 years ago from India

      Patience is a virtue and Olive I must admit you got a lot of it. Your hub is not an easy one to begin and finish, you make me guess each time you post a new hub as to how you bring out such amazing high quality hubs.

    • missolive profile imageAUTHOR

      Marisa Hammond Olivares 

      8 years ago from Texas

      Hi habee! I'm glad (and honored) to see you stopped by. How could I not mention your awesome hubs? :)

      Thanks for the vote up and +1!!! Greatly appreciated!

    • habee profile image

      Holle Abee 

      8 years ago from Georgia

      Wonderful hub about personal narratives! And thanks a bunch for the mention! Voted up and +1'd.

    • rabecker profile image


      8 years ago

      Great information. Thank you.


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