A personal narrative is a story about an important incident or experience that has taken place in a person’s life. The author shares the experience, thoughts, emotions and sometimes the lessons learned or knowledge gained during the course of the events.
To plan a narrative, decide on the story, recall or construct the setting, facts or events, the people and the emotions involved in the incident or event. A fictional story may draw on emotions from one’s own life injected into similar imagined events to give the narrative authenticity. Making a diagram or notes may help you plan your story.
Narratives are usually written in either the first (‘I’, ‘we’) or third (‘he/she’, ‘they’) person, far less often in second person (‘you’). Third person narratives can sound more formal than those written in the first person. They allow a distance from the main characters not possible when the person involved is telling the story in their own voice. It also gives authors more flexibility, allowing them to change point of view to another character without confusing the reader.
Planning a 3rd person narrative:
- Decide on an incident or experience as a focal point of the story
- Who will be the narrator? Do they have a bias or point of view, or are they objective?
- Who is the main character? You may need an additional one or two other characters.
- Setting – Where does the story take place?
- Decide on a plot structure. What are the main events, points along the way, the climax of the story, and its resolution? You may need to brainstorm and/or plot what happens on a graph to keep your story on track.
Structure of 3rd Person Narrative
A narrative text usually contains the following three parts:
- Orientation – start in the middle of the action, involving the main character from the start.
- Complication – where conflict, tension or a problem is created.
- Resolution – the problem is resolved, sometimes with a twist.
- 3rd person ‘he’, ‘she’, as though the narrator is watching the event take place.
- Language will suit both the characters and the setting (time and place).
- Use language conventions – sentence and paragraph structure, speech marks etc.
- Your narrative will include action, description, realistic dialogue and reflection (without preaching).
- Use variety in your writing style: a mixture of short and long sentences, hard-hitting action sequences and longer poetic descriptions, short snatches of dialogue and longer paragraphs which create atmosphere and suspense.
- Show don’t tell! Try not to state the obvious; use finesse.
Brainstorm, draft, (if you get stuck, start from whichever point you can), write, let your writing sit a day or two, read aloud to yourself several times, check all of the points above, rewrite.
These websites give you more advice about writing a personal narrative in third person voice:
Personal Narrative Writing
Take note of these helpful hints from great writers:
Here is an example of a narrative of a personal incident written in 3rd person voice.
For the length of narratives written at school and for the QCST, it is recommended that the action of the story happens within no more than a ten minute time frame.
Adapted from an original piece by Loretta D.
Differences Between First and Third Person
Personal Writing, such as for a reflective essay, or a "personal response" discussion posting, can be written in the first person (using "I" and "me"), and may use personal opinions and anecdotes as evidence for the point you are trying to make. All other Ashford papers (Exposition, Persuasion, and Research Papers) should generally be written in third person, and should use only credible academic sources to support your argument.
EXAMPLES OF FIRST AND THIRD PERSON WRITING
First person example (only acceptable for personal writing)I think Shakespeare's play Hamlet is about the relationships between family members. I really liked the play, and in some ways the characters reminded me of my own family.
Third person correction (appropriate for all other academic writing)Shakespeare's play Hamlet deals with the relationships between family members. In Examining Hamlet, Arnold Latimer describes these relationships as "conflicted" (2005, pg. 327).
Explanation:In the second example, the pronouns "I" and "me" have been omitted, and academic sources are used as evidence.
First person example (only acceptable for personal writing)The theory of learning that I relate to the most is Bandura's social cognitive theory. This is the theory that you can learn to do things by observing others. I know this theory is true because I learned how to fix cars by watching my dad over many years.
Third person correction (appropriate for all other academic writing)Albert Bandura's social cognitive theory is based on the idea that people can acquire knowledge by observing others through social interaction. This theory was demonstrated through Bandura's "Bobo Doll" experiment (1961).
Explanation: In the second examples, the focus is on objective facts, rather than on what "I" think, and academic sources are used as evidence.