Personal Narrative Essay

Sample Personal Narrative                                                                                    

     When I was a freshman in college, I had a terrifying experience camping alone in the Blue Ridge Mountains.  One Friday afternoon, I set off on my bicycle for the Mountains, hoping to have a solitary experience "communing with Nature."  I had visions of an idyllic experience away from school and people.  Instead, I nearly froze to death.  Like all intense experiences, this one taught me a lot about myself.  And to this day, it is an experience that affects the way I think of Nature, solitude, camping, and myself. 

     After leaving my dorm, it took me about three hours to get to my campsite; almost the whole time, it rained continuously and the temperature dropped.  I was unprepared for foul weather and had only a sleeping bag and poncho to protect me from the elements.  I still wonder why I did not turn back.  I suppose I kept thinking things would get better.  They didn’t. 

     By the time I reached the Mountains, it was too dark to do anything but stay.  I found a place to camp for the night but, because I was so ill prepared, I had no flashlight and did not even know if I was in a legitimate campsite.  Nonetheless, I settled in for the night.  Cold, wet, tired, and scared, I ate the peanut butter and jelly sandwiches I had brought, curled into my sleeping bag, threw the poncho over me, and hoped (and prayed) for the morning to come quickly.  It did anything but. 

     After dozing for what I imagined was a few hours, I was awakened by the sound of a loud engine and the bright glare of a searchlight.  Bizarre fears flooded my mind: was it an organized crime hit? deranged mountain men looking for a victim? poachers doing illegal hunting? the park ranger looking for illegal campers (which I probably was)?  At the time, these thoughts all seemed like realistic possibilities.  For what seemed like hours, the car stayed; I prayed I would not be discovered.  Somehow, I was not.  (Probably nobody was looking for me.)  After the car or truck pulled away, I passed the rest of the night in fits and starts.  Whenever I slept for a while, the rain would start again; the pelting on my poncho would awaken me.  The sound of rain on a tent still brings me immediately back to that scary night. 

     Finally, after a few hours of sleep in the middle of the night, I awoke before dawn shivering, soaking wet, and numb in my fingers and toes.  I waited only for enough light to begin bicycling back to my dorm; I did not even have food for breakfast.  I was halfway home before I had feeling in my extremities.  Arriving at my room, I crawled into a warm, dry bed, grateful to be alive.  It took several days before I could laugh about the experience and probably several years before I gained some insight into it.   

     I have been as cold and as wet and as hungry on subsequent camping trips, but never have I been so scared.  Thirty years later, I remember distinctly the events of that eighteen-hour trip and hope never to have another such experience.  From that very brief trip, I learned to prepare better for the challenges of Nature and to have an appropriate respect for its power.  Most important, I learned that I could endure a lot more than I had ever imagined.

WRITING ASSIGNMENT                                                                                        PERSONAL NARRATIVE

      For your first essay assignment, you will write a multiple paragraph essay, with special attention given to good paragraph development.  The paragraph is the basic unit of composition and organization.  If you can write a good paragraph, you can write a good book.  The paragraph helps you to organize your writing, to stay focused, and to develop your ideas fully.  The paragraph helps your reader to follow your argument and to absorb all you have to say.  The paragraph provides a logical order.  We will talk more about paragraphs in class.

     Every paragraph needs to have a TOPIC SENTENCE.  Sometimes this is called a controlling idea.  The purpose of the topic sentence is exactly that – to control the rest of the paragraph.  The topic sentence should be clear, focused, and limited; most important, it must express an attitude.  It serves as the hub that connects all the spokes in the wheel of your paragraph. 

     In the first paragraph of a multi-paragraph essay, you will state, clarify, and develop the controlling idea of your entire essay.  The statement of this controlling idea in an essay is called the THESIS STATEMENT.  I know you already know this, but I will say it again: if you can write a good introduction with a clear, focused thesis, you can write a good essay.  That is what we will work on for this (and every) essay. 


     Our first type of writing will be the personal narrative.  In this type of writing, you will tell about a significant experience in your life.  You have written in your journal to try to generate some possible topics for this assignment.  Keep writing in your journal if you find it helpful and enjoyable: it’s a great habit.  Maybe you have found a topic you want to write about; if so, great.  If not, think about events, hopes, goals, people, activities, etc., that are important to you.  We all have something important to say: remember what William Stafford wrote in "A Way of Writing."  Once you come up with a topic, you will then need to limit it by generating a good thesis statement. 

     The challenge of any essay is to find a topic broad enough to be interesting and narrow enough to be completely examined in the limited space of 1-2 page