Choosing a Topic for Your Personal Narrative

To choose a topic for your Personal Narrative, think of an event to tell about and your feelings about what happened.

If an event is interesting to you, it will usually appeal to others. Think of your audience and their interests.

The following topics are from the chapter ‘The Skull and Big Toe Incidents’ from the book Under the Influence by Phil Hamman.

Dysfunctional event –The day my friend’s dad got fired for bringing a skull home from work.

Unusual event – The day my friend’s brother got his toe cut off.

Brainstorm some stories from your life that could fit into the following categories:

Funny __________________________________________________________________

Sad _____________________________________________________________________

Exciting _________________________________________________________________

Unusual _________________________________________________________________

Scary ___________________________________________________________________

Dysfunctional ____________________________________________________________


‘Show Don’t Tell’ in a Personal Narrative

Avoid telling the reader what he or she is supposed to think or feel. Instead, let the reader experience the event with the sensory words you provide. Let the reader hear, smell, see, taste, and feel what is happening in your story.  It’s more interesting for your reader to draw conclusions about the story.

One way you can do this is by eliminating the overuse of “to be” verbs, you’ll force yourself to pull in sensory words in their place. What is a “to be” verb?

“To be or not to be, that is the question…” Hamlet

The past tense forms of ‘to be’ are some of the most irregular in the English language. Let’s just worry about avoiding the past tense forms of ‘to be’ when writing a personal narrative since your story will take place in the past. As a reminder, here’s a list:

I was                    We were

You were            They were

He/She/It was

Try an example:

I was walking down the street to my friend’s house. I saw a dog and it was trying to get loose.

What happens if you take out “I was” and ‘it was’ and replace them?

Read the following example from the chapter ‘Firearms and Dogs’ from the book Under the Influence by Phil Hamman.

      While walking down the street, I could see Shane staked on a chain. When he saw me he leaped to his feet and strained against his chain, jerking and snarling in an effort to get loose. Suddenly, the stake pulled loose from the ground, and he tore down the street after me.

Below, rewrite the sentence ‘I was walking down the street to my friend’s house,’ this time using a sound that could be heard on the way: