Think of how bland personal essays and feature stories would be without anecdotes. Just facts, more facts and stats. Getting readers interested in what you have to say, and getting them to learn from it, takes more than just a spew of information — actually, it takes a gentle balance in between. If you’ve done it right, your anecdote can encourage the reader to read on, perhaps also with a little more personal investment latched on to the side. Do it wrong, however, and you’ve got something the readers are going to circle around feeling lost, bored, and wanting to move on to something else — like their phones.
There are a number of ways you can find the right anecdote for your writing. Here are just a few:
1. Determine the lesson/moral of the story
Writing can lead us into some strange places, especially in the first draft. But, like many writers know, much of what we write in the first draft really should be crossed out in the second. It’s important to pack your writing full and fitting on your paper, kind of like Tetris. Part of what makes a successful drafting process is to know what your overarching lesson or moral is and stick with it. Make it your fine-toothed comb when editing. Is your anecdote contributing to that lesson/moral? Does it add something new that acts as a building block for your next point? If not, perhaps it’s not the right story for this piece.
2. Write all ideas down
Ideas come in multitudes and sometimes your brain won’t always choose the right one. Like doing maths — sometimes it’s better just to write it all out on paper to make sure you reached the right conclusion. Set it all down and see what you can find. Does one idea show huge promise, but strays from the point? Does the other slightly bore, but sets down a building block you needed? Write all your ideas down and see if you can find an anecdote that fits. If it’s not there, keep trying or maybe rethink if an anecdote really works where you’re trying to put it.
3. Keep it snappy
Ideas are hard to refine, even more so when you’re writing your first draft and tangents become as favourable as energy drinks to Honour students. The last thing you want is for your anecdote to drag, either making the readers bored or forget where the story was supposed to go. Really, anecdotes should vary between a couple of sentences to a couple of paragraphs — and that’s largely dependent on the significance of your idea. Don’t pull out a lengthy paragraph for an idea that could’ve been done in a sentence. Write anecdotes to reach conclusions the audience couldn’t have otherwise.
4. Use imagery focussed on telling it better
There are so many ways you can make imagery occur, but is it always necessary? Does it just form an obstruction of clichés instead, making the reader grit and bear the inessential details to continue on? Instead, use imagery sparingly. Use it to create a desired reaction from your audience. Do you need them to feel disgust? Enlightenment? Mellowed? Choose your words wisely, and your imagery wiser. Originality and familiarity are two to hold onto — and one without excess.
5. Is it interesting, funny or thought-provoking?
What worth does your anecdote really hold? There’s not much “reading for the sake of reading” without a cause to back it up. Does your audience find your anecdote something worthy of reading? Anecdotes are a popular starting method for enticing readers before diving into the facts and stats. It’s through anecdotes that you can choose to indulge your reader and allow them to feel more personally invested in your story. Much like the heart-racing horror tale or the intrigue of a sci-fi — the reader is a fan for a reason. Don’t let your anecdote fall short.
You can find more about crafting anecdotes on the following sources…
How to Write a Great Anecdote: https://wordcounter.net/blog/2016/10/03/102483_how-to-write-an-anecdote.html
5 Simple Tips for Telling Better Anecdotal Stories: http://nathanbweller.com/5-simple-tips-telling-better-anecdotal-stories/