To be a person is to have a story to tell. –Isak Dinesen

What stories are within you?  A personal narrative is a story from your life.  It sounds simple. But it isn’t always easy to think of an idea for a personal narrative.  So, I put together a list of 11 personal narrative writing prompts to help you find a story to tell.

Many writing professors start the semester with a personal narrative essay assignment.  It’s supposed to be the most natural thing for students to write.  People tell stories about things that happened to them every day.  The difficulty with personal narrative is that’s there a difference between telling and writing a story.

Writing shows settings, people, actions, and feelings. When you write a personal narrative, you describe a story so that your reader sees, feels and understands what you experienced.   When you write a personal narrative, you describe a story so that your reader sees, feels and understands what you experienced. Click To Tweet

You show (don’t tell) readers a personal story.   The post “How to Master Writing Personal Narrative Essays” describes how to use the show don’t tell approach in writing personal narratives.

One of the best ways to show a personal story is to select a small episode or anecdote from your life.  These 11 personal narrative writing prompts help you find a great essay topic.

Personal Narrative Writing Prompts


#1 Favorite School Memory

Write a story about your favorite school memory.  Who was there? Where was it?  How did it happen?  How does it end?  Focus on one single event.  For example, if you played the violin in school you could tell a story about playing violin in a concert.  Or if you played on a soccer team, you could tell the story of your try out.

# 2 Worst School Memory

This is the opposite of #1.  Select a memory that is focused on a terrible situation.  What triggered that situation and what happened?  What was the result?  For example, this could be a situation where you were bullied.  Describe what happened, and how it ended for you.  Did anyone defend you, or help you?  Or did the bullying continue?

#3 Frightening Story

Write a story about a scary or frightening moment in your life.   What happened?  How was it scary?  Are you still frightened?  Fear is a strong emotion and it motivates people to keep reading and find out what followed.  Some examples of frightening moments are being trapped in a cave, lost in the woods or in an old house with strange noises.  A frightening experience could also be any personal event where you didn’t feel safe and were afraid something terrible was going to happen.

# 4 “Just Between Friends” Story

Write a story about something that happened between you and a friend.  Is it something important you experienced together?  Did your friend do something to help you?  Did he/she hurt you?  Or did you do something to help your friend?  Did you hurt a friend?  Some ideas for this topic are an activity or event you both participated in, something you both started, a great act of kindness, a sacrifice one of you made to help the other.  It could also be something where you betrayed your friend, or your friend betrayed you.

#5 Family Story

This is similar to the topic of friendship except in this case it’s something that happened within your family.  What occurred, who was there, and what did you do? Is there an important funny, sad, or happy event in your family?  Did you do something important or special with your family?   Some examples of this topic are the birth of someone in your family, the death of a loved one, or something fun you did with your parents, siblings or grandparents etc.

#6 Travel Story

Write a story of the best, strangest or worst thing that happened to you on a vacation or trip to another place.  Focus on one event or experience.  One mistake writers make with this essay idea is they describe an entire travel experience, and that isn’t interesting to your readers.  Some ideas for this writing prompt are getting lost in a city, being pickpocketed on a trip, or visiting a historical site.

#7 Success Story

Write a story about something you accomplished.  Describe what you did to achieve success, and how you reached your goal.  Were there obstacles you had to overcome? This is a tricky essay topic because sometimes people focus on the feelings of success or the final achievement rather than the story of how they succeeded.   Some examples for this are to write about winning an event or earning an honor.

#8 Personal Failure

Write about how you failed to do or achieve something.  Describe what you tried to do, how you failed and what you gained/learned from it.  Everyone fails at something.  Your readers understand the feeling of failure.  Some people connect with these personal narratives more than stories of success because they can empathize you. People learn a lot through failure, so when you write this type of story, convey or hint at what you learned from failing.

#9 Accident

Write a story about an accident you caused or an accident that happened to you.  This  could be negative as in a car accident or maybe it’s an accident of good fortune.  Describe how the accident occurred, who was involved and how it ended.  Was it a bicycle accident?  How did it happen?  Did someone get hurt?

#10 Unresolved Experience

Describe something that happened to you, but where there’s no resolution.  What was the experience and how did it occur? What don’t you understand or know about the experience? Then, instead of having a resolution to the story, convey how you feel about not knowing what happened.

#11 An International or National Event or Incident

Write a personal story describing how you acted, witnessed or responded to a significant national or international happening.  Did you play in the Olympics, or join a protest?  Did you survive a natural disaster?  What was your role in this circumstance?  What did you do?  For example, if you were in a hurricane describe what happened, who you were with and how you survived.


The most important factor to consider in a personal narrative is yourself.  Choose an idea for a personal narrative that intrigues you.  If your personal narrative bores you, it’ll bore readers.  You want to write a descriptive personal story with vivid characters, action, and emotions.

Also, select a story you want to share with others.  You’re revealing not just what happened to you, but also a piece of yourself.  Is your personal story something you want people to know?

It’s your story.  You decide what to write and who reads it.  Then write it well.

Writing Challenge: Use one of these personal narrative writing prompts with your next essay.  Write a personal narrative that shows your readers what you experienced.