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Writing Better Personal Narratives


Photo by Labor2008

How can we incorporate the tools authors use when writing fiction to improve students’ personal narratives?

Begin With Conflict

Students writing a personal narrative might not realize that conflict is essential even in a true story – and it doesn’t have to mean two guys fighting! Explore different types of conflict to get them thinking about how conflict will fuel their narrative:

  • Character vs character
  • Character vs society
  • Character vs nature
  • Character vs self

Perhaps the conflict is dealing with unjust rules at school, self-doubt when trying something new, or struggling against nature during a camping trip.

Include A Theme

Ask students to wrap their events in a literary theme such as:

  • The Quest
  • Redemption
  • Alienation
  • Coming of Age

Imagine a typical “first day at a new school” personal narrative refocused using an “alienation” theme.

The “I did something wrong and had to tell my parents” tale takes on a new dimension when a student knows about “redemption.”

An “I went on a vacation” narrative gains new meaning when told as a “quest.”

Structure The Events

Then, using a high-quality plot structure, students will shape their events to enhance the theme.

No more “then we did this, then we did this, then we went home.” By applying a five act plot structure, students use an exposition and denouement to highlight their own change throughout the story.

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