Writing Mini-Lessons: Questions for Personal Narrative Writers
“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.”
~ Willa Cather
Personal narrative is a wonderful genre for writers, especially for you as adolescent writers, because you can consider and shape your experience and recast it as literature. Personal narrative writing can help you figure out who you are, through glimpsing and reflecting on who you were.
Of course, personal narratives can suffer from a host of problems, most of which stem from the writer’s lack of passion for the piece’s chosen topic. If the writer’s heart isn’t in the piece, if the personal experience isn’t intriguing to the writer, if there is not a strong desire to figure out how and what a memory signifies in a writer’s life, then the writing is usually flat and empty. Then the piece isn’t truly a personal narrative; it is a string of events laid end-to-end in narrative form. Personal narratives that are mainly descriptions of “and then we did this and then we did that and it was so awesome” are often written by beginning writers of personal narrative, perhaps because the topic is safe, being mainly superficial. However, for a personal narrative to shine, the writer must be strongly personally invested and reflective.
Use the questions below to help you begin to determine what stories of your life might be told through personal narrative. Consider each question thoughtfully. Not every question will resonate with you, and that is fine. You are looking for ideas that trigger your memory in intriguing ways. Capture the topics that emerge and add them to your writing territories under the subheading Personal Narrative-Worthy Experiences. The themes of your life are developing now. Begin to name and follow these threads of your life themes, not just to become a better writer, but also to become more self-aware.
Questions for Personal Narrative Writers
- What are my earliest memories? How far back can I remember?
- What are the most important things that have happened to me in my life so far?
- What have I seen that I can’t forget?
- What’s an incident that shows what my family and I are like?
- What’s an incident that shows what my friends and I are like?
- What’s an incident that shows what my pet(s) and I are like?
- What’s something that happened to me at school that I’ll always remember?
- What’s something that happened to me at home that I’ll always remember?
- What’s a time when I had a feeling that surprised me?
- What’s an incident that changed how I think or feel about something?
- What’s an incident that changed my life?
- What’s a time or place that I was perfectly happy?
- What’s a time or place that I laughed a lot?
- What’s a time or place when it felt as if my heart were breaking?
- What’s a time with a parent that I’ll never forget?
- What’s a time with a grandparent that I’ll never forget?
- What’s a time with a brother or sister that I’ll never forget?
- What’s a time with a cousin or another relative that I’ll never forget?
- Can I remember a time I learned to do something, or did something for the first time?
- What memories emerge when I make a time line of my life so far and note the most important things that happened to me each year?