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Major Paper #2–The Personal Narrative Essay

A narrative is simply a story. A personal narrative is a true story, focusing largely on the writer’s own life.

For Essay #2, the Personal Narrative, you will be writing a short essay (at least 3-4 double-spaced pages in length or roughly 750-1000 words) about a significant event in your own life. This event need not –and probably should not–be inherently, overly dramatic. Sometimes the most influential moments in our lives are smaller moments, events that we may not recognize as influential until years after the experience. In the personal narrative essay, you will want to tell the story as accurately as you can—search your deep memory—and tell the story from your own perspective. You will also want to exercise your selectivity as a writer, choosing to summarize background information/exposition, and really dramatize important scenes for the reader.

Elements of Story: Plot, Character, Setting, Dialogue
The following four terms (plot, character, setting, and dialogue) are the four major elements of story. In other words, these are all essentials for your personal narrative.

1.) PLOT: A plot is a pattern of events or actions that lead to a change in a character or situation. In the case of this assignment, the plot of your essay should be limited to a key event or series of events that actually occurred in your real life, and resulted in some sort of change in your character, your relationships with others, your worldview, or your situation.
Plot also always includes some kind of tension or conflict. This conflict may be external, between two people (for instance, a fist-fight with your brother, or a disagreement with your mother). In contrast, the conflict may be purely internal (for instance, a conflict between what you desire and your sense of morality). By the end of your essay, we should have some sense that the conflict has been dealt with somehow, if not entirely resolved.

2.) CHARACTER: A character is any person depicted on the page. We often think of characters in terms of fiction, characters “made-up” or “invented” by the author to further the story or illustrate a point. Even in fiction, however, characters are often based on real-life people. In your narrative essay, you yourself will become a character—even though you must remain true to the facts of your life, personality, etc.—just because you will be reproducing yourself on the page. As a readers, we’ll want to get a sense of who you are as a character on the page in the course of your essay. By the end of the essay, we will also want to know why/how your experience was significant. How did it change you?

To take it even further, beyond the scope of your own life, how was this experience and/or the change it produced significant?

You may also decide to have other characters in your essay, but these must also be real life people who were actually a part of the events you describe. If many people were present during the events you describe, you will need to decide which of those real-life people need to be represented on the page. You will want to limit yourself to including only the characters who played some sort of significant role in the experience. In addition, you will need to decide how much or how little we really need to know about all the characters you include in your personal narrative.

3.) SETTING: The setting includes time and place. When did all of this happen? How old were you? Where exactly did it happen? As a writer, you must decide how much the reader needs to know about what’s happening when and where. However, you should keep in mind that setting is important, setting the stage for the action of your narrative. You should also note that setting can help set the tone of your piece, establishing the “feeling” of the experience and your attitudes about it.

4.) DIALOGUE: Dialogue reports conversation between characters directly, and is usually represented in quotes. Especially if you choose to write about something in your deep past, you may not remember everything that was said verbatim. What you will need to do—if you choose to use dialogue—is to plausibly re-create the conversation, based on what you do remember.
The tips and questions in your reading for this unit are very important, and should help you improve your Personal Narrative. In addition to the reviewing/revising suggestions in the book, please keep in mind that I’ll still be looking for these basics as well: purpose, focus, organization, tone, and editing.

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