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Whether they are presented as poetry, spoken word, lyrics, scripts or prose, personal narratives enable people to share their lived experiences with others. Narratives profoundly affect people on an individual and collective basis because they transmit each person’s unique life story. 

Narratives also allow us to see and feel what others have seen and felt. They place us inside another person’s experience and allow us to see the world from a new perspective. Narratives enable us to identify with others and establish shared points of reference.  

Personal narratives also shape culture. They are embraced by many commercial, political, and media enterprises as vehicles that help spread  messages and cultivate emotional connections. With the rise of social media, personal narratives have become powerful tools for defining a cultural landscape. 

The ability to own or define one’s own narratives is extremely important. A recent story by Amy Harmon in the New York Times notes that the language we use to express our narratives has been changing. And it’s important that it does. 

As Rashad Robinson, President of Color of Change explains Harmon’s New York Times piece,”When you’ve been on the margin, being able to claim a language and a narrative and a set of words to express yourself is incredibly important.

There are a few essential elements  necessary for  successful and powerful personal narrative writing. Here are a few elements to keep in mind when crafting your narrative. 

Be selective
Assess how your narrative builds intellectual and emotional connections with the audiences through persuasion. Personal stories are more than sharing  a story for the sake of the story. When constructing your narrative, select the most relevant and impactful stories that effectively characterize your  life encounters for the audience. You can create a powerful narrative by being intentional and selective in the stories you tell and how you tell them. Center each story around a key theme that is relevant to the audience. 

Be positive
Our realities eventually emanate from our lived experiences. We capture these lived experiences in our personal narratives. The transformation of experiences into words and words into stories can be done in many ways. When you adopt a position of positivity, you can frame challenging experiences as opportunities for growth. Failures need not be recounted as negative experiences. Rather, you can tell stories about difficult moments from a positive perspective. 

Choose your words wisely
The words you choose to tell your story will influence your audience’s  emotional and psychological comfort levels. Being intentional about word choice allows you to harness a language’s power. Identify and establish areas where your language could sabotage your relationships with the audience. Avoiding conflict language can also have a tremendously positive effect on an audience.

In addition, be careful not to assume that what works well in one language will work equally as well in another language if written as a direct translation. If writing a narrative that will be published in two languages, consider how a native speaker could advise you about selecting words that are consistent with the focus and goals of your narrative. 

Creating your personal narrative is an important and impactful undertaking. Remember to be selective in which stories you tell, approach the storytelling from a positive framework, and choose your words carefully. 

Language is a vehicle people can use to maintain control over their lived experience and use their life to shape culture and improve society. It is important that your story be told and that you achieve the desired effects with your audience.