Shelley Widhalm

The Trick to Writing Personal Essays

In 52 Writing Topics, Shelley Widhalm, Writing on September 9, 2012 at 11:00 am

Writing personal essays requires honesty above all else, whether telling something personal or expressing an opinion.

Personal essays represent what a writer thinks or feels about a topic, or they can describe thoughts, feelings and emotions related to a personal experience.

The essay about a personal experience is a type of creative nonfiction that is autobiographical and written in the first-person point of view. Describing the personal experience, the writer provides meaning through a lesson learned or the outcome of his or her personal growth and development.

A personal essay can be about reaching a milestone or overcoming an adversity or life-altering event.

It can tell an anecdote or reflect on a memory in a way that other readers can relate.

Or it can be about the writer’s obsessions, favorite things or likes and dislikes.

The story told in the personal essay needs to have a point, or a message or theme, and everything needs to be factual and true.

The structure of the essay can be a list, a question-and-answer form, a story or a scattering of musings. The writer can wander in the telling, getting sidetracked from the main ideas as long as there is a personal story supporting those ideas, connecting with the readers.

The essay that tells a story uses the elements of fiction, including plot, setting, conflict, characterization and dialogue, to give a response to an idea, topic or question.

Personal essays that give an opinion are more relaxed than formal essays that have an introduction, supporting paragraphs and a conclusion. Opinion essays do not have to prove a point, but they do need to introduce a subject and theme, or a reason for writing.

The opinion essay can ponder a question or express a response to a political, social or any other type of issue. The essay can be one-sided or give both sides to the issue and let readers come to their own conclusions.

There often is a controlling idea that lets readers know where the essay is heading.

The writer can include an element of surprise, unlikely comparisons, opposing viewpoints and unexpected groupings. But the writer shouldn’t lecture, sermonize or moralize, all of which are off-putting to the reader.

Like a personal essay, opinion essays do best with a few exciting stories or moments of reflection, while letting the reader know why the essay really does matter.

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