Qualities of Good Personal Narrative Writing:
Some would argue that an acorn is just as, if not more, important than the oak tree that it grows into. The acorn is the source of the oak tree, its origin, therefore without it there would be no story to tell or overall topic. By discussing “acorn” stories in our personal narratives we are giving the reader a detailed account of something specific that led to a larger, more general knowledge. Often times the knowledge gained is implied by the acorn/story written about.
Write an acorn narrative; don’t write all about a giant oak tree topic. Do this by zooming in so you tell the most important parts of the story.
-I learned almost everything that I know from my grandfather. (oak tree)
-The day that my grandfather took me to the WWII museum I realized how important veterans are to our country and the size of their sacrifice. (acorn)
-On the first day of ninth grade when my now best friend showed up in my homeroom I hated her, but now five years later I feel like no one else can understand me as well as she does. (acorn)
-My best friend Caroline is just as important to me as my family is. (oak tree)
-I matured a lot the year my dad made me volunteer at the local SPCA. (oak tree)
-I will never forget when a Labrador was surrendered to the SPCA I worked at one summer because it was infested with heart worms—blood was coming out of his snout like a faucet and we had to euthanize him that afternoon. (acorn)
Choosing an acorn and writing your narrative
• Carefully reread all of your entries and ask yourself, ‘Does this really matter to me? Does it say something about me?’
• Star the entries that seem like possibilities and return to all the starred entries and choose the entry that you have a lot to say about.
• Include relevant details from the memory you have of the event, but do not be afraid to embellish with figurative language
• Begin your narrative with either: dialogue, setting description, or action.
Revising and finishing your partial draft
By now you should have at the minimum a page and a half of your narrative written. Consider this already written material with the questions:
Is my story in chronological order?
If I close my eyes and retrace my steps through this event are there any important details missing from my story?
What did I do in this draft that I want to continue to do as a writer?
Set a plan for yourself. Outlines are not tools reserved solely for prewriting, and can be very helpful in finishing your partial draft. Outline what you have covered so far in your story and beside that what of your story is left to be told.
Unlike when you tell a story verbally, a written story needs to be planned and contemplated. Yet, similarly to a story you may tell your friends verbally, a written story can also benefit from an intuitive or “gut feeling” of where a story needs to go or in what direction it should develop. So do not ignore your gut feelings about what parts of a story are important to be told.
Often when we are living an event it is not clear what elements of the event are important, but when we reflect on that event things come into focus and we are able to pinpoint “forks in the road” of our story. Keep a look out for these turning points and do not ignore them!
Revision is not proofreading!
When you revisit the parts of your story already written you are not simply making corrections, and instead you should be looking for parts of your story that may not be as strong as others. A good indicator of this is paragraph length. If a paragraph is very small, or is dominated by one type of sentence (simple, complex, run-on), then you may need to adjust that paragraph so that it is working at its maximum potential.
Remember that parts of your story that are important can easily be glazed over in the excitement of getting the story out. Find those moments and develop them with detail and figurative language.
Think of it like a movie. If you are watching Independence Day and the director completely skips over showing the initial alien attack on Washington, choosing instead to just tell you that this attack has happened, your interest in the movie would be greatly reduced. The images of alien ships blowing up the city and citizens in a panic to get out are what put the viewer into the movie and get them to invest in what comes next.
This also applies to your narrative. If important details of your story are skipped over by “telling” instead of “showing” your narrative is weakened because the audience cannot register just how important that moment is.