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Published: Friday 25th of January 2013

How to Write a Personal Experience Essay – Sample Papers Included

What Does this Article Include?
  1. What you should focus on to get a good grade.
  2. How to reveal the true meaning of a memory.
  3. What to do to pick a great topic.
  4. Best organizing strategies for excellent essays.
Personal Essay Includes:
  • Sharing a story from your past in an authentic way.
  • Explaining the importance of that particular story.

How to Write a Great Essay?

Do you want to get a good grade on your personal experience essay? Testing agencies and instructors encounter a lot of essays like these, so you should invest your time to write an excellent one and to get a high score. There are lots of assignments about personal experiences you can easily access. They are given so frequently because anyone should be able to write an essay about their personal experiences on a particular topic. It does not require too many resources, research or additional information, and people can write winning essays relating to events of crucial importance in their personal life with ease. Experienced people can promptly notice the differences between telling a simple story about yourself and writing an excellent essay based on your personal experiences. The following things will make you understand what the difference between a good and an excellent essay is:
  • Great essays outline a clear image of the experience, and the readers can almost feel they are part of the story.
  • Top essays create a particular interpretation of the experience, explaining it with clarity.
  • Last, but not least, the best essays are well-organized.
In this article, we shall provide all the information you need to write an excellent personal experience essay!

Write About a Conflict

How to Define the Importance of a Memory

When you're writing an essay about your personal experiences or relationships, you’re doing more than simple paperwork. First of all, you're discovering what certain things from your past mean, but you're also sharing your old experiences with other people. Writing about past experiences will make you see the events from two different points of view: you'll see the events relating to the present time and then you'll see the events relating to the perspective you had at the time of the event. The period of time that has passed between these two perspectives will make you understand the importance of the event or the relationship.
  • Your current perspective
  • Your perspective at the time of the event or relationship
The time that has passed from the event until the present time is very significant for you. It helps you understand the significance of the memory, and it can change your future actions depending on what you have learned from that particular event.

Pick a great topic

Depending on how recent the event is, you will see things differently. If the event or the relationship happened recently, you have fresh memories of that specific experience. When we're talking about an event that happened a long time ago, you will think about that experience, you will analyze it, and you will try to remember the most meaningful details. Most of the people reflect on their reactions and try to remember exactly what that specific event meant for them at that time. In most of the cases, when you’re sharing past experiences you have to make a decision: to share your current perspective or to share the things as you saw them in the past.
“At the end of 8th grade, [my best friend said] she never wanted to be my friend again. I was devastated and terribly depressed all summer... Forty years later, I realize... that made me finally reach out to develop new friends. [They] encouraged me to develop my life-long interest in speech, theater, and writing. That experience of rejection gave me a lifelong compassion for others.” – Virginia Lynne.

Topic Ideas for your Personal Experience Essay

When you’re trying to choose a personal event from your past for an essay you’re usually trying to pick the best topic. Probably any significant experience from your life can make for a good topic for an essay. More than that, you should not think just about a single event because you can also pick a recurring event, a place that is important to you, a person that made you change your behavior and thinking or somebody who played a significant role in your life. An excellent way to find relevant and engaging topics for your personal experience essay is to brainstorm and consider the following things:
  • Think about the people who have had a significant influence on your life: the relationship with your parents, siblings, grandparents or even a good friend.
  • A single experience with a person who changed the way you think in general or about something particular.
  • A small but notable event.
  • A specific routine that was important to you at a particular moment in your life.
  • A place that is meaningful to you because of the memories you have there or because of the things you experienced at that place.

How to Decide if Your Topic is Good Enough

Decide what the meaning of an event or person was for you, and it will help you to determine whether or not the topic that you are thinking to pick is a good one for an essay. The next five questions will help you decide whether the topic you’re thinking about is a good option or not. Try to write down the answers and make sure you include as many details as possible. It will definitely help you pick a great topic. Here are the questions:
  • What did I learn from that experience?
  • How was my life purpose affected by that person or event?
  • What was the meaning of the event when it happened and how did I think about it at that time?
  • Do I have any regrets when I think about that event?
  • Would I change something if I could about that experience?

Best Essay Organizing Strategies

An excellent essay should be well-organized. The following writing techniques will help you professionally organize your personal essays. These are simple and effective strategies that every writer can use. Most of them are presented in books and movies, so you can easily access all of them. These strategies are no secret or hard to use, and all you have to do now is to include them in your paperwork.
1st Organization Strategy – Chronological
The most obvious way to tell your story is by relating the events in chronological order. All you need to do is to share your experiences in the order they happened. Other organizing techniques use this method to share the central parts of the event. In the following lines you'll see three essential characteristics of the chronological organizing strategy:
  1. The story is rendered in the order in which it happened
  2. The least meaningful events are presented in the beginning, and then the tension is created by including more critical events that will lead to a climax.
  3. After the climax, you should explain what the entire story meant. Also, include details about the climax.
An excellent example of a chronological organization strategy of this type of essay is the Anne Dillard's story, "Handed My Own Life."
2nd Organization Strategy – Expectations Unfulfilled
If you want an easy way to structure and organize your essays, then you should try the expectations unfulfilled strategy. It works best when there is a big difference between your expectations and what actually happened in the course of that event. Similar to the expectation unfulfilled is the "Expectations Fulfilled" organizing strategy. It is not so widely used because it is usually a less engaging idea, but there are situations when it could be a great idea to use the “Expectations Fulfilled” organization. There could be an exception, and the "Expectations Fulfilled" strategy could work great if you will present a situation when the results were obviously surpassing your expectations in a good way. If you want to discover a good example of this kind of organization, you should check the Rick Bragg's story, “100 Miles an Hour, Upside Down and Sideways”. Here are a few characteristics of the Expectations Unfulfilled organization strategy:
  1. The introduction describes the expectations for a particular event realistically. For example, Braggs tells how he was positive that all his desires would get fulfilled by a V-8 convertible.
  2. Can suggest the problem. Bragg is warned by his uncle, who tells him that the car could hurt or even kill Bragg.
  3. The story is shared exactly as it happened (using chronological organization). Bragg speaks about the race and about the accident that destroyed the car because of the speed.
  4. Relate the contrast between the reality and expectations. Bragg remembers that the radio was still playing after the accident and he got himself pulled out of the car without any scratches. However, he was famous because he survived a 100-mile crash, but not because he had the best car.
  5. Thoughts on experience. Bragg presents how the car was put back together but was never the same. Similar to this scene are his ideas of fast cars and freedom, and how they get destroyed in the accident. Here, you can present your reaction and thoughts, or you can present the situation ironically, as Bragg did.
  6. Conclusion presents an irony. Including a piece of irony at the end of your story could be a great way to conclude this type of essay. Braggs tells how he is disgusted after he sells his crashed car to a preacher’s kid who drives it without exceeding the legal speed. It is ironic because he was always exceeding the legal speed, but the new owner will probably never do this.
3rd Organization Strategy – Frame Story
Plenty of movies use frame story in the beginning and conclusion, so it should be something familiar to you. Here is an excellent example of a frame story organization. The movie starts with the frame of Carl enjoying the scrapbook Ellie made especially for him about their lives and dreams. Then the scene switches to the present time, and it relates the adventures of Carl and Russell. At the end of the movie, we see the same frame when Carl looks at the last page of the scrapbook. It makes him understand that the real adventure was the journey of his relationship with Ellie. A flashback frame can be another way of frame organizing strategy. It usually starts in the middle of the action, or after the action is over and you have to present a flashback of a previous memory. An excellent example of this type of frame is The Notebook movie where a man spends time with his wife who lives with Alzheimer syndrome and uses this frame to retell their love story. If you use a frame, it will be easier for you to present what the story means to you, especially if you pick the present time to remember the past actions, stories or events. An important thing that you should keep in mind is that the frame should not be a random one. Make sure you relate to an event, a discussion or something that gives you a flashback and remember a particular situation vividly.
4th Organization Strategy – Internal and External Conflicts
The name of this strategy reflects exactly how the essay is structured: your story is revolving around what happens inside your mind compared to what happens in the event. It is more engaging if you can present the action as a conflict between what happens in your mind versus what happens in reality. This contrast between your thoughts and reality will captivate the readers. A relevant example of this type of organization would be a wedding. It is usually an event full of happiness, but the conflict from the bride’s mind takes the control. She's wondering if marrying that man is the right decision because this choice could affect her for life. An internal and external conflict happens in the mind of a child who’s celebrating his birthday with his friends and his divorced parents. It is usually an event full of happiness, but the kid’s party is destroyed because he’s able to feel the tension between his divorced parents who are forced to stay together in the same room again.

Student Sample

You can use some of these organization strategies together, and your essay will definitely stand out. If you’re looking for an essay like this, where multiple strategies are combined, you should check Jean Brandt’s essay, “Calling Home.” Brandt uses a frame, but also internal and external conflicts to organize her essay.
  1. Introduction: it begins with the frame story, and it presents Brandt who is riding to the mall.
  2. First conflict and resolution: Brandt’s internal conflict makes her wonder if stealing from the mall is a worthy decision to make. The resolution presents that she has made up her mind to do it.
  3. Second conflict and resolution: The second conflict is external. Brandt gets caught by the store owner who decides to call the police.
  4. Third conflict and resolution: The third conflict is internal but also external. Brandt wonders how her parents will react to this situation. She is taken to the police station, but despite her expectations, the parents do not punish her. She is aware that she made the wrong choice when she decided to steal. Disappointing her parents is even worse than if they had decided to punish her for the choice she made.
  5. Conclusion: the essay ends with the same frame, and the expectations are unfulfilled. The ending presents Brandt riding her car back home, similar to the ride to the mall in the beginning. Her visit to the mall was completely different than what she expected but, more than that, she disappointed her parents.

You Can Use Small Experiences to Create Great Essays

You can use an everyday, small experience and turn it into an excellent essay that explains how you learned a valuable lesson about yourself, exactly as Brandt did in her essay. When you’re trying to find a topic for an essay, you should think about the turning points in your life. It doesn’t necessarily need to be an event of major significance in your life. It can be an experience that made you think different and learn something new about life or about yourself. The event does not have to be dramatic, but you should present how that event changed your perspective on certain things.

Write About an Experience You Like

Advice for Chronological Organization

Most students prefer the chronological organization strategy, but if you want to make your essay shine, you should try to use one of the other methods presented. Remember this:
  • The Conflict – as you probably know from the English class, every great story starts with a conflict. It could be internal (inside your mind) or external (between you and another person). Make sure your story presents the evolution of the conflict, the climax, and the resolution. The resolution should explain what happened in the end.
  • Avoid unnecessary details – Try to include only the relevant details and decide what you need to add to your story and what shouldn’t.
  • The details should be specific and captivating – The description of the environment, action, and people should be engaging and truthful.
  • Stay Away from boring facts – Make sure you include enough details to make your story interesting, but don’t waste your time with irrelevant details that will make the essay boring.
  • Action and Dialog are Great ways to engage with the audience – Insert action and dialogue in your essay. It will make your paper more appealing than descriptive paragraphs.

Metaphor Organization

In many cases, there is a specific scene, object or repetitive event on which you want to focus. An excellent way to arrange your essay is to use repetition that includes a specific scene, object or event. An excellent example of this is the “On Being a Real Westerner” by Tobias Wolff. There is used a metaphor to organize the entire essay. Try to remember the following characteristics of this type of organization:
  • There are many memories related to specific people, objects or feelings. Wolff's story presents his memories related to his rifle. It includes the moment when he got the rifle, his mother's objections, memories of him playing with the rifle and acting like a sniper, the moment when he killed a squirrel and his mother's reaction to this, his reaction to this event and his continued fascination for the rifle.
  • The memories are presented in a chronological order, and the story ends with the most meaningful memory presented last. In Wolff's story, the highest point is when he kills the squirrel and has to handle the reality, understanding what using a rifle means.
  • Connecting the memories with the central theme could be the main point of your paperwork. In the Wolff’s story, he connects his memories with the subject of power. He describes the power of his rifle but also his hunger for power and how it made him as a grown man.

Share an Experience that Made you Get Out of Your Comfort Zone

Organizing Essay about a Person

In general, you should try to keep the focus on a single memory you have with that person, but you can definitely expand the focus to even two or three major events that are related to the same person. Here are a few characteristics of this type of essay:
  1. Realistic Portrait of Person
    • Include dialogue – the reader can hear and imagine how the person speaks.
    • Describe a place or scenario that defines the person – the reader can understand details like interests or hobbies of that person.
    • Describe the person – how he or she looks like, what he or she likes.
  2. Particular Memories
    • Try to choose memories that are the most relevant, the ones that show the actual relationship between you and that person.
    • Each essay should include one-time episodes. You should describe these episodes in detail: what happened, who was part of it, what the characters said, how you felt.
    • You can include recurring activities. Describe them vividly and try to prove a point when you’re sharing them, preferably how those activities affected the relationship with a person.
Things that show the Person’s Importance
Explaining broadly what that person means to you is too much to include in a single essay. This is why you have to choose just one or two main activities or events that are representative. The entire essay, the description, and all the stories should focus on these main activities that you decided to share.

Other Types of Organizing Strategies You Can Use

Here are some suggestions of organizing strategies that you can use for essays about both events and people. Check them and pick the ones that you like the most:
  1. Revelation/Expectations Reversed
    • Your predictable judgment about a person.
    • Physical description, details about the person’s personality.
    • The revelation you had about the described person – what made you see that person from a different perspective and how did this affect your relationship.
  2. Conflict and Resolution
    • Describe what led to this conflict.
    • Physical description, details about the person’s personality.
    • The story of the conflict and how it settles the dispute, leading to a closer relationship between the two of you.
    • What did you learn from this conflict – create a story.
    • Relate how you shared this dispute and influenced others.
  3. Comparison and ContrastIn most of the essays, each paragraph includes both views – your view and the other person’s view. An excellent way to differentiate your essay is to present the other person's views first, then to talk from your perspective.
    • Introduction – describe the other person and structure the contrast between you two.
    • Body Paragraphs: Comparison and Contrast – How other people perceive that person compared to how you perceive that person. You can also describe how you used to see that person compared to how you see that person now.
    • Conclusion – How do you see that person now and what made you change your point of view?


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