Personal Narrative Paper Guidelines

1. Select a central metaphor [an object, an activity, a ritual, etc. (please no deities)] that will serve to illuminate some aspect of your self and who you are today (i.e. some great truth you have learned, a mystical revelation, a keen insight that you have developed over the years, a cherished personality trait that informs your character, a secret, unbridled passion, etc.).

2. Choose a series [at least two] of vignettes (small scenes) with your central metaphor featured in each of these scenes and link them together with appropriate transitions. Make sure that there is a balanced presentation. Don’t elaborate on one vignette and leave the others seeming like afterthoughts.

3. For each event provide enough detail to impact the reader. Try to use narrative techniques that build a scene such as: cataloguing, descriptive passages, action sequences, background information, etc.

4. It is important that every situation/vignette you choose is relevant to the overall effect of the paper. This means you should pick and choose your situations/vignettes with the utmost care. Remember: it is easier to take something out than it is to put something in.

5. Limit your cogitating to a bare minimum (that is, don't explain at length what the significance of each of your scenes is). Don’t be preachy. Trust that your examples (your scenes) will be able to do the work of showing what your point is (but you may have to provide a short summary statement for each scene).

6. Introductions don’t necessarily have to have an immediate relation to the central metaphor, but they shouldn’t seem detached either. They should serve as an integral part of the entire paper.

7. Conclusions should include the manner of how the central metaphor has illuminated some aspect of yourself—either how it has illuminated it as a whole or how it has illuminated it piecemeal (perhaps differently) within each vignette.You don’t necessarily have to summarize or reiterate what you have already said, but you shouldn’t go off on a completely unrelated tangent either in the conclusion either.


"Transfiguration" by Annie Dillard

"How I Wrote the Moth Essay" by Annie Dillard

Zen and the Transcendent Art of Mowing Grass by William Allen

Student Papers

Student Paper #1 — My Own Private Synergy

Student Paper #2 — The Lathe