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Writing Mini-Lessons. Effective and Ineffective Personal Narratives

“Why personal narrative?
It means the world becomes yours. If you don’t do it, it drifts away and takes
a whole piece of yourself with it, like an amputation. To attack it and attack
it and get it under control—it’s like taking possession of your life, isn’t it?”

“The story of your life is not your life. It is your story.”

Ineffective personal narratives generally suffer from one or more of these difficulties:

  • Problems with purpose. there’s no sense of why the writer chose this memory – of its significance to his or her life – or invitation to the reader to care about or become involved in the meaning of the memory.
  • Problems with focus. the piece is a bed-to-bed narrative that covers all the events of a day, trip, or visit, with the incident-of-interest buried in a mass of narrative.
  • Problems with pace. events unfold way too fast, with little revealing detail, so it’s impossible for a reader to make a movie in his or her mind, or events unfold way too slowly, with the key events buried among a host of unimportant trivialities.
  • Problems with reflection. the writer doesn’t tell his or her thoughts and feelings, so there’s no one with whom the reader can connect and empathize.
  • Problems with engaging beginnings. the piece begins with a paragraph or more of who-what-when-where-why background information that keeps the reader distanced from the piece.
  • Problems with conclusions. the piece either stops cold or runs on, with no reflection by the writer and no satisfaction for the reader.
  • Problems with dialogue. either people talk so much that the piece reads like a script for a podcast play and readers cannot visualize the action or empathize with the writer, or people don’t talk at all and their true natures aren’t revealed.
  • Problems with setting and character identification. the reader can’t tell where or when something is happening or who all these people are that the writer keeps referring to by their first names.
  • Problems with titles. the titles are labels or descriptions of topics, not invitations to the reader.

As writers, we will address each of these personal narrative problems in discrete mini-lessons so that you will know how to write effective personal narratives that have these qualities:

  • The title invites and fits: it came last; it was chosen from among possibilities brainstormed by the writer.
  • The engaging beginning brings the reader right into the action of the story.
  • Background information that the reader needs is woven in – the who-what-when-where-why context is embedded in the narrative.
  • There’s lots of I . lots of thoughts, feelings, and observations of the writer.
  • The pace fits the Goldilocks rule of being just right: the reader can make a movie in his or her head and isn’t bogged down by unimportant events.
  • A reader can see, hear, and feel the experience because the writer provides concrete, sensory details and descriptions of people in action.
  • The small details show what matters to the people in the personal narrative.
  • There is dialogue; the writer uses it to illustrate what people are like and how they are feeling.
  • The language is interesting: included are vivid verbs like sputter, knead, spy, curl, polish, pinch, and grip that a reader can see, feel, and hear.
  • The ending is purposeful: it leaves the reader thinking.
  • There’s a So what?. a meaning or significance that was discovered by the writer during the act of writing the piece.
  • There’s a setting: a time and places.
  • The action flashes back and forward in time and creates questions in the reader’s mind about what will happen next.
  • Literary devices are used to enhance the depth and quality of the piece.
  • The writer may have embellished details that fit with the spirit, intention, and truth of the story.

Contact me if you need assistance with your assignment.

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