Exploring Our Lives


Most of our memories present themselves to us as stories, or narratives. These are the most prolific methods of passing information from generation to generation. However, the difference between telling a story and a personal narrative is its importance to us, or how this story has shaped who we are or how we see things. Therefore, a personal narrative explores its significance in our lives. The things that happen to us shape who we are, who we perceive ourselves to be, and, possibly, how others see us. The things that happen to us also happen to us because of who we are, who we perceive ourselves to be, and, more than likely, how others see us.


Write an essay that explores a particular event (or series of events) in your life that has affected you in some way or made you aware of who you are. This doesn't have to be a huge event (car crash) and doesn't have to involve a death, although those kinds of things do affect us significantly. Some of the smallest moments have a significant impact on us. For instance, going to Antarctica was a huge event that meant something to me, but another, less "flashy" moment that is equally worth writing about is driving cross-country with my brother, or my first prom.

The ethos (authority) of a personal narrative essay derives from its self-reflective attempts at honest exploration of the unknown. It gets authority from investigating the surrounding world very closely, mulling over and ruminating on some of the ordinary, low, unexamined material of experience. It lays no claim to objective truth but does carry the authority of sense and experience. The first person of a personal essay tries to find something out about her/himself in relation to the world.

The meat of a personal narrative essay can be made of any number of things: plot, dialogue, description, reminiscence, but most of all, it keeps the reader engaged. A reader is only willing to do 49% of the work, so as a storyteller, you've got to bear the burden of providing names, places, descriptions of places and people-a reader wants to feel like she's there, experiencing what the writer is putting in front of her. Try to stay with the story, not stray… if there is a brother in the story, give him a name. If something happened outside on a summer day, what did the air smell like? A little description can go a long way. Use the five senses.


Choosing a topic is the hardest part of any writing assignment. Take your time; make lists; do a little writing on each topic to feel it out. Try it on. Don't be afraid to change topics mid-essay if it doesn't feel like it's going the way you want, even after a first full draft. Just keep writing. Don't dismiss an event because it isn't traumatic, either; not all of the memorable experiences in our lives are sad or negative.

Develop your ideas using some of the pre-writing strategies we talked about in class. Freewriting and listing are great ways to get at those small sensory details that show rather than tell the story. If your event is actually a series of events, making a list of the order of the events can help you choose organization. An outline can also help you decide what your reader needs to know in order of when she needs to know.

Drafting should happen well before the day the first draft is due. This will let you choose when your essay starts (during the event) and when it ends. The organization of your draft can change. Remember, you aren't limited to telling your story chronologically; you may choose to utilize tools like flashback, flashforward, and frames to entice your reader into the story with a bit of curiosity.

When your draft is complete, you will notice holes that need to be filled in. Fill them in. Don't convince yourself that you've written two and a half pages, and that's enough for this event. Find those places where dialogue should happen, or where, if you were watching this as a movie, you would want a "close-up" instead of a music montage. Find places where adding one or two more sentences of description of the scene will really make it come to life. Ask yourself if the significance of the event is clear. Do you have to spell it out for your reader or yourself? Is your reflection on the event necessary, or will it add to the reader's experience of the story?

Most of all, keep writing. Just because the assignment is 3-5 pages, that doesn't mean the story ends at 4 1/2. Don't let boundaries or word-count keep you or your story in.


Remember these things about your drafts:

Grading Criteria/Rubric

Does the essay have a clear thesis/significance (implicit or explicit) that it sticks to?
Is the event described in detail?
Does the author utilize dialogue to make the event more real to the reader?
Does the author use an appropriate voice or tone throughout the essay?
Has the author engaged the reader in the introduction or beginning of the essay?
Has the author organized the essay in a logical and entertaining way?
Is the essay effectively proofread, having no grammatical or punctuation errors?

Due dates are detailed on each class calendar.

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