CLRC Writing Center
Structure of a Personal Narrative Essay
“Narrative” is a term more commonly known as “story.” Narratives written for college or personal
narratives, tell a story, usually to some point, to illustrate some truth or insight. Following are some
tools to help you structure your personal narrative, breaking it down into parts.
The “Hook” Start your paper with a statement about your story that catches
the reader’s attention, for example: a relevant quotation, question, fact, or
Set the Scene Provide the information the reader will need to understand the
story: Who are the major characters? When and where is it taking place? Is it a
story about something that happened to you, the writer, or is it fiction?
Thesis Statement The thesis of a narrative essay plays a slightly different
role than that of an argument or expository essay. A narrative thesis can begin
the events of the story: “It was sunny and warm out when I started down the
path”; offer a moral or lesson learned: “I’ll never hike alone again”; or
identify a theme that connects the story to a universal experience: “Journeys
bring both joy and hardship.”
“Show, Don’t Tell” Good story telling includes details and descriptions that
help the reader understand what the writer experienced. Think about using all
five senses—not just the sense of sight—to add details about what you heard,
saw, and felt during the event. For example, “My heart jumped as the dark
shape of the brown grizzly lurched toward me out of the woods” provides
more information about what the writer saw and felt than, “I saw a bear when
I was hiking”.
Supporting Evidence In a personal narrative, your experience acts as the
evidence that proves your thesis. The events of the story should demonstrate
the lesson learned, or the significance of the event to you.
Passage of Time Writing about the events of your experience using time