San José State University Writing Center
Written by Jacqueline Goodwin
Personal Narrative Essays
This handout will help you begin your personal narrative essay assignment with key points and
questions to prompt story development.
What is a personal narrative essay?
A personal narrative essay is a story you choose to share with readers, for it communicates your
understanding of yourself, others, and/or society. As people, we remember stories, so your
personal narrative essay is a way you can transform an ordinary experience into meaningful
commentary that is applicable to a broad audience.
What questions can I consider to help me convey my story effectively?
A personal narrative essay uses the components of a story: introduction, plot, characters, setting,
and conflict. It also uses the components of argument, thesis, and conclusion. In a personal
narrative essay, we tell our readers a story to make a larger argument. Focusing the readers’
attention on significant, detailed scenes, we develop our argument persuasively through effective
Conflict and Thesis: Finding the Meaning of Your Story
Because the personal narrative essay is an argument, providing a thesis will help your readers
understand the purpose of your story. An effective thesis in a narrative often responds directly to
or reflects on a source of conflict, so the first step in developing a personal narrative essay is
usually to define the conflict at the heart of your story.
Consider the following questions about conflict as they relate to your personal narrative:
Is your conflict internal, taking place inside you as you struggle to make sense of
competing ideas about yourself, others, social norms, and so on?
Who or what challenged preconceived notions you have had?
Is your conflict external, pitting you against circumstances or others involved in an
experience with you?
Is your conflict in response to a stereotype or mentality society holds about some part of
Your story helps readers reflect on the negotiation of conflict, which generates meaning. Your
thesis articulates that meaning succinctly. Sometimes this meaning remains implicit in the
narrative—the details themselves powerful enough to evoke understanding among your readers.
With an understanding of your conflict, consider the following questions for your thesis:
What lesson did you learn from the resolution of your conflict that your readers can
How has your perspective changed in a way that relates to your specific audience?
Personal Narrative Essays, Spring 2015.
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