personal narrative

Use these 9 steps to help you write a personal narrative.

How do you use writing prompts and questions to help you remember and write stories from your personal narrative? The questions you ask will define the quality and direction of the story that you will write. As a professional writer, I have had the opportunity to interview people from every walk of life for the 3,500-plus articles and stories I have written about people, products, and business. Before I begin writing about any topic, I will take time to ponder questions like

  • What is the story about?
  • Who be reading the story?
  • What information do I need to tell the story?
  • Who should I interview and why?
  • What questions do I want to ask?
  • What type of research should I do to understand the topic?
  • What questions do I want to research?

The answers to these questions set the stage for what I will write.

My Early Beginnings in Writing a Personal Narrative

In the last 15 years, I have become interested in writing my personal narrative and stories about my family, parents, and extended family. If you are interested in learning my personal story, read the article: These stories span lifetimes and cover individual journeys through every possible experience. In that pursuit, I have personally interviewed 160 family members and recorded 300-plus hours of their stories. I have gathered, cataloged and digitized 1000’s of artifacts in the form of pictures, video, writings, documents and more.

The result of those interviews has led me to develop a personal plan to

  • Write the memoirs of my mother and father
  •  Write a personal narrative about the story of my life
  • Write stories about memories that were shared
  • Research, organize and write about several generations of family

As I looked for resources to help guide me in my pursuits accomplish my goal, I realized that my journey was not unique. I asked myself the question, how can I help others make the writing experience more straightforward. I concluded I could share my knowledge and experience in the form

  • Questions to Ask People. Develop a series of in-depth questions about every facet of life’s journey. These questions could be used as prompts to remember experiences, outline personal narratives and memories, and as interview questions to help others tell their stories.
  • Writing Process. Develop a series of articles that provide insights, how-tos and best practices on what I have learned from 1000’s of hours of hands-on experience in researching and writing stories.
  • Share Story Examples. Write and share stories from my personal and family experiences to give you examples of how you could approach writing, telling, and sharing critical stories.

Writing Stories that are Important to You

Deciding the write your personal and family narrative and memoir can be an overwhelming decision. You will think or ask yourself questions like

  • What do I write about?
  • Where do I begin?
  • What questions do I ask?
  • Where do I begin?
  • Where do I find information?
  • How much do I really what to share?

My answer is “keep it simple.” Writing starts with one story, and before you know it, you have a story of your life. I hope that together we can have a great experience writing the stories we value and would want to read. In this writing adventure, you will be

  • Choosing and remembering impactful experiences
  • Defining questions to ask yourself and others
  • Truthfully sharing the funny to sacred moments of life
  • Learning to vulnerable
  • Sharing your personality
  • Drawing conclusions and lessons learned
  • Researching and understanding the whole story
  • Choosing what to share and not to share
  • Adding the memories of others
  • Adding artifacts like photos and documents to your story

Earlier in the article, I shared that I had developed questions for 95 topics that you could use to help you write your stories. The following is an outline of nine steps that I have used to remember, discover, research and write stories for my personal narrative. For this example, I will reference the High School topic from “195 Writing Prompts and Questions to Ask People about School Years.”

9 Steps to Writing Your Personal Narrative

Have you ever had the experience where because of smell, sound, discussion, you were able to recall from memory a story/experience? Memories are like chapters and pages in book: Chapter = Time period; Pages = Story/experience.

When I wanted to remember experiences or unlock my memories from a period in my life, I will ask myself questions about that period. The questions are prompts. Once I start remembering experiences, those experiences trigger other experiences. The following is 9 step process that I have used to help guide in writing my personal narrative.

1. Choose a time period

Choose a time period such as High School. See article:

2. Read the list of questions once

Please familiarize yourself with these questions for the period by reading them through once. If any ideas come to mind, write them down. You may want to start expanding on the ideas or jot them down to come back to later.

3. Start to trigger memories

Once you read through the list, start at the beginning or choose a question or series of questions to help trigger memories.

4. Write short phrases for memories

At this stage, write down one word or a short phrase for each memory, story, or experience. You will come back to these phrases a little bit later to expand them. For example, if I had reviewed the High School questions, I would have jotted down memory ques such as

  • Playing sports
  • Death of friend
  • Moving from moms’ home to dads home
  • Philmont Scout Ranch in New Mexico

5. Expand on memories

Once you have your initial list of memories, you can use this list to spark other memories. By this I mean, you can take a thought and use it to cluster/span other ideas. For example, I chose “Playing sports” I would use this thought to help me remember as many activities around High School sports as possible. I could have written

  • Participating in football, wrestling, track, swimming
  • Four years of football
  • Winning wrestling match before 2,500 spectators
  • Going to state in discuss as Sophomore
  • Physical injuries in football
  • Learning about a drug ring that included coach and players
  • Lettering 11 times starting with Freshman year
  • Scholarship offer to Jr College
  • Mom buying football cleats in Freshman year
  • Parents support in sports

And then, I could use each of the ideas to generate other ideas. At this stage, I am just trying to capture as many memories as I can. I will decide later on what to do with my list. Don’t feel like you have to write down all your ideas now. It will continue to grow even when you start writing the stories you have listed.

6. Organize list

When I have completed my brainstorm, I will begin to organize the list to have meaning for me. The following are some ideas of how to manage your list

  • Chronological order. Take the list and put the ideas into chronological order. For High School, I would do start with my 9th-grade year and end with my 12th-grade year.
  •  Associate by type of memory. Place like ideas/memories together. For High School, I could place all my football, travel, or family memories together into separate groups.
  • Refine and combine list. This is where I can take ideas on my list and evaluate whether stories/memories can be combined, expanded or deleted.

When you organize your list, you may find yourself using more than one method of organization.

7. Add a description to memories

This is where you take those short phrases and provide just enough detail to give you a start when you are ready to outline and write/tell the story. Write as much as you need to remember. For example, if I chose the memory “Winning wrestling match before 2,500 spectators,” I could expand my memories in a short or long-form.

  • Version 1-Short form. Wrestling match before 2,500 spectators. Move from Valley High to West High. A school wrestling match. Spectators are chanting “Pin Author.” Pinned Dennis Grey. Silenced crowd.
  • Version 2-long form. Wrestling match before 2,500 spectators. In Jr year of High School moved from Valley High to West High in the same town. Wrestling at Valley High was an important sport with over 100 wrestlers. Wrestling at West High was not important and had only 20 wrestlers. On the day our schools met for a wrestling match, 2,500 people were in the gym. Only 25 people were there to support our team. When it was my time to wrestle, 2,500 spectators in the gym began stomping feed and chanting “Pin Author, Pin Author, Pin Author.” I was scared and frightened. I pinned Dennis Gray, a friend, in under 2 minutes. The chanting stopped, and the room fell quiet.

8. Choose a story to write an outline

At any time in the process, you can choose one of your memories and write a personal narrative or story. Staying with the High School time period, I could select “Wrestling match before 2,500” and outline the story. I will now create an outline for the article by listing questions I would ask myself and use as writing prompts in an interview. For example, I might write

  • What is the story about?
  •  When did the story take place?
  • Who was involved in the story?
  • What is the chronological order of events?
  • Describe each event and why it is important?
  • How did you feel about each event?
  • Is there anyone you want to interview about his event?
  • What other research do you want to conduct?
  • What is the moral of the story?
  • Do you have any artifacts (e.g., images and documents) to help tell the story?

9. Write your story by answering the questions

Once I have the questions listed, I will now begin to answer the questions. I will have done one or more of the following.

  • Write answers to each question. I will take the time to answer each question.
  • Start writing the story. Start writing your story. Don’t worry too much about getting your narrative 100% perfect with the storyline, character development, punctuation, choice of descriptive words and more. You can take care of those issues in later drafts. Use the questions to keep you focused.
  • Record your story. Use a digital recorder to record your story. Tell your story as you remember it. Once you have recorded your story, you can transcribe your account using tools to translate your digital recording into words.

Questions Found in Begin My Story

In Begin My Story, I have developed 2,500+ writing prompts and questions for106 topics covering every possible time period and event that could happen in one’s life. Each topic’s questions are organized to quickly begin a conversation and explore a topic from as many angles as you desire. Even the more complex issues of death, divorce, and war can be addressed with sensitivity and respect. You will quickly review each topic and determine whether you want to address the question in an interview for your personal narrative or stories about others. You can use the topics and questions to

  • Help you identify events and experiences you can write about
  • Help you to organize and write your personal narrative
  • Develop questions to ask other people about their life’s
  • Help you to organize, research and write stories about different individuals
  • Help to know what type of information to include in the story

Go to the following article to find a complete list of topics and questions:


Writing stories from my personal narrative has been an adventure. I have surprised myself regarding the memories that I have remembered. Most of the stories have been fun to research and write. Other stories have been exceedingly difficult to write. I think I have experienced every possible emotion while writing. It has been good to remember the lessons learned. The stories, together, are the total sum of whom I am. Enjoy your writing journey.

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