Personal Narrative Essay

Your job: Choose a moment or event in your life that has proven significant/meaningful and write a thesis-driven personal/narrative essay about it. You must also relate your experience to one of this unit’s authors’ experiences. This is called “synthesis,” and it is a crucial component of this essay (more on this as we move through the unit). Your event should be unique to you and your life, so avoid typical and clichéd essay topics (e.g. prom, graduation, birth, death, near-death, marriage, divorce, championships, car wrecks, etc.). No doubt, these events are important and meaningful, but they are usually too large to be properly developed in 3 pages and/or they end up sounding like everyone else’s papers on the same subjects. Your event should be engaging for your readers and should reveal something about you (and in the process tap into a “universal truth”—something with which your audience can identify). Be unique. Be honest. Tell your story dramatically and vividly, giving/showing (not telling) clear indication of its autobiographical significance. Avoid “morals.” Remember, your moment doesn’t have to appear monumental on the surface; it simply has to prove significant throughout the essay.

Essays should
be 3-4 pages in length (no more, no less) and formatted in MLA style.
utilize in-text citations for any synthesized material (i.e. material from one of our texts) and likewise have a proper Works Cited page.
have a clear sense of purpose (the “why?” and “so what?”) and include a solid thesis statement.
include an introduction and a conclusion. Both should be interesting (intro should include a “grabber”), and neither should “sum” with broad, vague statements. Remember these paragraphs are the first and last things your reader sees on the page.
provide a real title, not just “Essay 1”or “Narrative Essay.” Be creative. Be interesting.
use selective but effective description and sensory detail (and perhaps even dialogue) to illustrate and develop your event, its scenes, and its people. Remember—show, don’t tell.
select a narrative organizational strategy (most will select straightforward chronological) that best suits your topic and purpose
synthesize with one of the texts we will read in this unit (no other research allowed) Use at least one quote from one of our essays in your essay.

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Some events you might consider (although you should in no way feel limited to these selections):

∙an unexpected incident that altered your life, values, or beliefs—a stepping stone, a pivotal moment, a transition
∙a time when you felt great pride, insecurity, ambition, fear, courage, etc.
∙a difficult situation, a tough choice, a dilemma, a conflict
∙a time when you felt great emotional intensity: love, anger, guilt, frustration, hurt, or joy
∙a “first”—a first time (PG-13, please), first great problem encountered or solved, first success or failure, first awareness, first discovery
∙a humorous event, an embarrassing moment, an awkward incident, a strange situation.
∙a great surprise, an occasion when things did not turn out as you expected, a sudden encounter, a surprising resolution

You may want to consider the following questions when picking a promising event:

(1) Can I recall specific details about the action, scene, and people?
(2) Will I be able to tell what happened from the beginning to end?
(3) Does this event reveal anything important about me?
(4) What did I learn from my experience?
(5) What did I learn about myself and the world around me?
(6) Will I be comfortable writing about it?
(7) Will it arouse the interest of my readers?

Your paper writing process should include the following:
Brainstorming your topic and details of the topic
Outlining the action (complete with supporting details and descriptions)
Writing a rough draft
Reviewing and revising (not just running spellcheck on) the rough draft. Pay special attention to the Revision Checklist on page 32 of our textbook.
Editing for errors, misspellings, grammar mistakes, clarity, etc.
Submitting the final document to Bb.
*Note: When revising and editing, many find it beneficial to print out the draft and read it aloud. Not only does your brain benefit from changing to a physical copy, but when you read your writing aloud, your ear can often “hear” mistakes your eyes have stopped seeing.

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