Today in room 310:
Mrs. Kuhlthau: You need to let us know what's going on in your head when you're writing in first person. What do you really think? Feel? This is your chance to let us see the interior you.
Student: Why would ANYONE want to do that?!
At that point my jaw kind of drops and I give myself a mental head scratch. Hmmm. Not surprisingly, my student has a good point. I can't remember how I answered him, but I know it was totally improvised and totally lame. The fact is, the personal narrative you're working on is an assignment. And while you don't have to write an essay on a topic of my choosing, you still have to pick a story from your life, put it on paper, and have conferences with your teacher (me!) and your peers.
If I ask you "What is your purpose in writing this story? Who is your intended audience?" I wonder if half of you would answer that your purpose is because you have to, and your audience is, well, me. Or maybe you would surprise me. Here are some different answers I want you, my students, to consider as you fine tune your personal narratives.
"I'm writing for myself."
Many authors write their stories for themselves, to get their experiences on paper so they will be able to relive them. Perhaps it was a happy time in your life. You get to relive it as you describe the events, the setting, and your memories.
Maybe your story is about an embarrassing or sad experience. In real life, you don't get to control everything that happens to you. Maybe it will be painful to remember. But when you sit down and write a story, using your own voice, your own point of view, and deciding what parts to keep in and what parts to leave out, you get to control the story you tell.
You might even discover, through telling your story, that you learn something valuable about yourself. Like a theme!
A famous writer, Joan Didion, said of writing, "I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means…"
Maybe YOU are your audience.
"I want my friends to read my story."
Sometimes it's hard to get a chance to tell our stories to our friends. We tell them what's going on in our lives over breakfast, but we have to eat breakfast and do our homework (if we forgot), and there's announcements and before you know it, you're getting "the look" from the teacher. Plus, your friend wants to talk, too. So it can be hard to share your experiences with your friends in an uninterrupted, in depth way.
You can do that with a story you've written. You are the main character. The perspective is all yours. So is the 'mic'. No taking turns. No waiting politely for your chance to talk. You have the chance to grab their attention and keep it, if you tell your story well.
You can be funny when you're talking to your friends You can use your own language, and talk like you really talk. You can express things in writing that you can't in speech, especially if you're shy. Maybe you really want to make your friends laugh, or make them feel happy. Maybe your friend is IN your story. When you write with your friends as your audience, and if you keep it authentic, your story will be much 'realer' than if you are writing with your old lady teacher as your audience!
Think about your own writing. How would it change if you really thought about your audience? Would you change your tone, your vocabulary, or the details you choose to include?
I can't wait to hear from you.