“A personal essay is ‘all over the map’. There’s nothing you can’t do with it. No subject matter is forbidden, no structure is prescribed. You get to make up your own form every time.”
Annie Dillard, To Fashion a Text, 1998
If there’s any form of literature that inspires the words in me to flow freely, it’s writing or reading a personal essay. I simply enjoy the unrestricted ideas, memories, and the free flow of characters written by genius authors. It’s what also inspired me to write my book A Carpet Of Violets and Clover, in which I compiled a collection of personal essays along with poems and short stories.
A personal essay is the most creative and flexible type of writing, making it the most elusive to describe. As for the definition of a personal essay, you can’t fit it in a box and label it as one thing. Which is what makes it so enjoyable to read or write. However, if we see it from a literalist’s point of view, it can be divided into two categories: opinion and narration. It can be a description of what the author may have experienced. Or, it can simply be their opinions on an issue expressed. The best essayists can seamlessly combine these formats.
A personal essay differs from biography and memoir since it hardly emphasizes on chronology. Whether they are relevant or not, the essayist’s thoughtful observations add value and depth to a personal essay. I have written this article to guide you on what is a personal essay, what are different types of personal essays, the important elements and structure of personal essays, and more.
What Is a Personal Essay in Writing?
A personal essay is a piece of nonfiction literature that offers readers an engaging, thought-provoking, amusing, or entertaining account of the writer’s personal experiences, even if it is based on second-hand information. A personal essay, also called a narrative essay, differs from other essays since it tells a story.
However, the narration of a personal essay is nonfiction. The characters, story, timeline and dialogue are all real events or strongly linked. Otherwise, it would be a short piece of fiction writing. To make their stories more intriguing, writers may take creative liberties to shorten timelines, condense discussions, and modify names and descriptions.
Essential Structural Elements of a Personal Essay
The main ingredients of most successful personal essays such as their hooks, characters, settings, and storylines are what set them apart from one another and make personal essays such enjoyable pieces of literature. Here are the essential structural elements of a personal essay that you should focus on if you intend to write one:
- A Catchy Hook
Every personal essay tells a tale. And as with any tale or story, a strong hook is necessary to pique the reader’s interest and compel them to keep on reading. This could be an intriguing first sentence or paragraph, a light-hearted or thought-provoking opening scene, or another “hook” to draw the reader in. Because of this, many personal essays open with a cliffhanger from a later section before moving right into the essay itself.
- Engaging Storyline
If a personal essay is really a story, then you need a strong narrative, even if it is brief. The best stories make the reader feel something, whether it’s happiness, sorrow, horror, or disgust, etc. If the storyline is boring or too vague, readers will likely put it down quickly.
- Immersive Characters
The biggest selling point in both fiction and nonfiction literature is immersive characters. This involves the author themselves because personal essays are often first-person narratives. But occasionally, writers of personal essays take a backseat and allow their characters to catch the attention of the readers and keep them hooked until the very end.
- Attractive Setting
Your essay’s setting should be determined by the locations you have visited or at least inspired by them since effective personal essays frequently transport readers to those locations. So try to find ways to add intriguing elements to surroundings, whether they are visual or auditory.
Difference Between Essays And Personal Essays
A formal essay is quite different from a personal essay. In a personal essay, the author might discuss experience without providing evidence. Only the subject and concept need to be introduced by the author. It is based on sentiment, feeling, individual judgement, and first-hand experiences. In contrast, in a formal essay, the author asserts the thesis before proving or supporting it with evidence to offer proof. The author needs to conduct research to do this.
Examples Of Personal Essays
Some examples of effective personal essays are listed below:
- Whatsizface by David Rakoff: In this amusing personal essay, Rakoff discusses his visits to a few Beverly Hills plastic surgeons to see how they may “repair” his face and why he chooses to leave it that way.
- Peculiar Beliefs by Roxane Gay: This is an illustration of a personal essay that uses an important point to build a narrative.
- A Carpet Of Violets and Clover by Jenny Zimmer: These essays use whimsical and grounded writing to portray my personal experiences, feelings or observations.
Conclusion: Thoughts & Memoirs In Ink
In the end, you can now say that you have an introductory understanding of the intriguing world of personal essays and what sets them apart from other types of literature. I suggest picking up my book A Carpet Of Violets and Clover to learn more about personal essays. Available on Amazon.