Creative Nonfiction: Personal Narrative Writing Assignment
Overview: In this writing project, you will write a personal narrative about a formative event in your life so far that has contributed to you growing wiser and more mature. We will be contributing to an online project, so please change names as you write.
Personal narratives should creatively describe a significant moment in your process of growing up. Using dialog, imagery, and other literary devices, your narrative should show your meaning rather than telling it outright. As you compose your essay, weave a thematic ribbon throughout your piece. Don't tie your message up in a bow at the end, however. Instead, allow your audience to tie it up themselves. The most sophisticated writing engages the reader in an experience of interpretation and closure.
__ Use first-person point of view.
__ Use precise words and phrases, telling details, and sensory language to convey a vivid picture of the experiences, events, setting, and/or characters.
__ Use narrative techniques such as dialogue, description, and reflection.
__ Create a smooth progression of experiences or events; sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole.
__ Provide a conclusion that follows from and reflects on what is experienced, observed, or resolved over the course of the narrative.
__ Length: 800-1500 words (this will be approximately 3-5 pages, double spaced)
Consider the pieces you’ve already written for this unit: your stream-of-consciousness piece, your two vignettes, your “I’m Alive, I Believe” poem, and your daily warm-up responses. In addition to your own writing, read the following model narratives to give you an idea of a possible structure, voice, and tone for your narrative:
Model Narrative 1:
Zusak, Marcus. The Book Thief. New York: Knopf, 2005. (2005) From “The Flag”
The last time I saw her was red. The sky was like soup, boiling and stirring. In some places it was burned. There were black crumbs, and pepper, streaked amongst the redness.
Earlier, kids had been playing hopscotch there, on the street that looked like oil-stained pages. When I arrived I could still hear the echoes. The feet tapping the road. The children-voices laughing, and the smiles like salt, but decaying fast.
This time, everything was too late.
The sirens. The cuckoo shrieks in the radio. All too late.
Within minutes, mounds of concrete and earth were stacked and piled. The streets were ruptured veins. Blood streamed till it was dried on the road, and the bodies were stuck there, like driftwood after the flood.
They were glued down, every last one of them. A packet of souls. Was it fate?
Is that what glued them down like that?
Of course not.
Let’s not be stupid.
It probably had more to do with the hurled bombs, thrown down by humans hiding in the clouds.
For hours, the sky remained a devastating, home-cooked red. The small German town had been flung apart one more time. Snowflakes of ash fell so lovelily you were tempted to stretch out your tongue to catch them, taste them. Only, they would have scorched your lips. They would have cooked your mouth.
Clearly, I see it.
I was just about to leave when I found her kneeling there.
Apart from everything else, the book thief wanted desperately to go back to the basement, to write, or read through her story one last time. In hindsight, I see it so obviously on her face. She was dying for it—the safety, the home of it— but she could not move. Also, the basement no longer existed. It was part of the mangled landscape.
Model Narrative 2:
Tan, Amy. The Joy Luck Club. New York: Ballantine, 1989. (1989) From “Jing-Mei Woo: Two Kinds”
My mother believed you could be anything you wanted to be in America. You could open a restaurant. You could work for the government and get good retirement. You could buy a house with almost no money down. You could become rich. You could become instantly famous.
“Of course you can be prodigy, too,” my mother told me when I was nine. “You can be best anything. What does Aun- tie Lindo know? Her daughter, she is only best tricky.”
America was where all my mother’s hopes lay. She had come here in 1949 after losing everything in China: her mother and father, her family home, her first husband, and two daughters, twin baby girls. But she never looked back with regret. There were so many ways for things to get better.
We didn’t immediately pick the right kind of prodigy. At first my mother thought I could be a Chinese Shirley Temple. We’d watch Shirley’s old movies on TV as though they were training films. My mother would poke my arm and say, “Ni kan”—You watch. And I would see Shirley tapping her feet, or singing a sailor song, or pursing her lips into a very round O while saying, “Oh my goodness.”
“Ni kan,” said my mother as Shirley’s eyes flooded with tears. “You already know how. Don’t need talent for crying!”
Which Draft Is Better?
Decide which draft is better and identify elements in the writing that make it better.
The day that changed my life was the day my father died.
My father, Big Jim, and his wife, Sylvia, were home that fateful Saturday, preparing to meet some friends for dinner. Before leaving the house, however, my dad decided he needed to water a couple of plants in his greenhouse. He told Sylvia he would be right back. When he did not return, she grew worried and stepped outside to check on him.
She found him slumped over in the greenhouse. She hurriedly ran and called 911. When the paramedics arrived, they told her there was nothing to be done. He had passed away. In a panic, she called my house, but I wasn't home. She got my voicemail and that is where she left the message that my father had died.
I came home shortly after she left the message. Unfortunately, I did not see the red light flashing on the answering machine. A couple of hours went by before my daughter noticed the blinking red light. She was the one who first heard the terrible news.
A tiny blinking red light changed my life.
It had sat there blinking for a couple of hours before being noticed. Flashing. Daring someone to pay attention to it. Daring someone to push it.
While it sat there flashing, I went on as if life was normal. I swept the leaves off the back patio. I threw the ball to my dog, Scout. I relaxed, reading my New Yorker in the backyard, continuing my "normal" Saturday, oblivious to the little red light flashing a few feet away from me.
As it turns out, I would not be the one to discover the little red flashing light. My daughter, who was home visiting for the day, saw it first. It was my daughter who pushed "play" on the telephone answering machine, and it was she who was the first to hear the fateful words: "Kelly, I have terrible news. We lost your father today …" It was my daughter's horrific screams that brought me rushing into the house.
My father, Big Jim, had died.
(from http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/apr14/vol71/num07/Making-the-Most-of-Mentor-Texts.aspx by Kelly Gallagher)
1. Look through your writing assignments from this unit. Many of these ask you to reflect on things you’ve experienced or learned.
2. Think about your birthdays for the past five or so years. Where were you? Who was with you? What were you doing/feeling/experiencing?
3. Think about a time you:
realized something new
made a new friend
learned something about someone you’ve known for a long time