As a genre, Personal Narratives often share a similar organization or structure. In the most rudimentary form (even formula), a personal narrative has a beginning, middle, and end and each of these three parts contains specific components that we can identify.
Beginning: setting, character, problem(s)

Most stories begin with setting. Setting is not only temporal and geographic, but includes specific political, social, and/or cultural environments. In some stories setting itself becomes so significant it is like a character that evokes action and reveals thematic intent. What would Huck Finn be like without the Mississippi River? So we oftern ask a leading question when we read personal narratives. To what extent does the setting relate to the events and emotions of the story? How do other details--such as literacy and religion--relate to the setting and the attitudes and feelings associated with the place?

The setting shapes the story and helps us make determinations of the character of the storyteller.

Character: Authors develop complex characters in three areas:

1. Physical characteristics--dress, gestures, body, speech, handicaps, age, etc.

2. Psychological characteristics--inner consciousness, memories, personal and racial ideas, feelings, attitudes, blind spots, prejudices, beliefs, values, psyche.

3. Time and place--environment responsible for personality as well as future and present decisions and actions.

Authors not only tell but show us what the characters are like. We can come to know them by what they do and don't do. We can learn from what they say. And we can be privy to their thoughts. In Personal Narratives, the story is told in first person point of view. Commonly the author/ narrator is divided in some way between an obligation to self and an obligation to others. This is the source of dramatic conflict. There are always twists to this dilemma. The problem is presented. Examples: Antigone; Huck Finn; Film: Dances with Wolves. George Orwell in "Shooting an Elephant." Mark Twain in "The Private History . . . ."

Middle: This section of personal narratives includes the notion of plot--a series of events in which the narrator attempts to resolve the problem. There is usually an initiating event (action begins with chronological storytelling), subsequent events and roadblocks which represent setbacks for the narrator, then rising excitement and a main event. Thus, Plot is commonly defined as a sequence of events arranged in a meaningful pattern, usually driven by conflict--that is, antagonism between two or more elements.


® Characters against other characters (Hamlet)

® Characters against internal self (Shooting an Elephant)

® Characters against the environment or the natural world (The Edge) (Frankenstein)

® Characters against the cosmos/god or gods/ the devil (Genesis)

® Characters against society (Brave New World) (Matrix) (Thoreau) (Frankenstein's monster)

Obviously these categories will overlap.

Plot has a lot to do with the way a story ends. Obviously, a happy ending can have very different implications than an unhappy ending. Ending sometimes has a great deal to do with the time and place the story itself was created.

End: The end of a personal narrative contains a resolution. This is the literary equivalent of a thesis statement (in a way, usually implied or implicit rather than explicit). It comes at the end rather than the beginning. In some ways, then, the structure of a personal narrative operates in reverse to the kind of expository essays you have written in high school. What is ultimately important in all forms of the essay writing is the ability of the writer to identify and assess conclusions, implications, and consequences. That is, in this class students ideally will move beyond concluding with simply a reassertion of the thesis, or a limp summary of the preceding discussion. Remeber that readers are asking, "So what?" and the best signs of critical thinking are those indications that the student has activated the subject by showing its importance.