Build Connection with Anecdotes
While you’ve been to taught to use strict grammar rules in formal writing, in the last lesson, you learned it’s okay to break the rules to create a conversational tone.
Today’s lesson is about using anecdotes in your writing.
What Is an Anecdote?
An anecdote is a short, interesting story. The story might be about you, or it could be about someone else.
While a story can be fictional, an anecdote is based on real-life events.
You’ll find an anecdote within a longer piece of writing, and it might be a few sentences or a few paragraphs long.
An anecdote illustrates a point and relates to the larger context. You can use an anecdote to provide an example to support the idea you’re writing about.
You use an anecdote to inform, inspire, persuade, or entertain a reader. By sharing a small story about yourself, you build a connection with your reader.
Anecdotes add impact to writing of all types: essays, newspaper or magazine articles, blog posts, advertisements, emails, or courses, to name a few.
While not a fiction story, an anecdote is best told using fiction writing tools. A good anecdote sets the scene, contains descriptive details, and might include a snippet of dialogue. And like any good story, an anecdote uses the “Show, don’t tell” writing technique.
To illustrate the use of anecdotes, I’ve chosen examples from articles by three popular writers published on Medium.com, an online publishing platform.
#1 – Jeff Goins. In his article, “How to Not Drift through Life and Get What You Really Want,” Jeff shares a personal account from his childhood to make his point: You have to take initiative and risk and become an active participant to get the life you want.
“It reminds me of a time when I was about six years old, afraid to go outside and play with the other kids. My family and I were living in a small apartment near Aurora, Illinois, and I was so shy that instead of going outside to play with the other kids that summer, I stayed indoors.
“But whenever the other kids from the apartment complex would run around the courtyard, I’d chase them from one end of the duplex unit to the other, running from window to window so that I didn’t miss a thing.”
#2 – Nicole Bianchi. In her article, “How to Strengthen Your Writing with One Simple Technique,” Nicole uses a story of teaching a class of six graders to introduce the one simple technique.
“I realize I only have a few minutes before I lose complete control of the class.
“‘Okay,’ I say in a loud voice. ‘For example …’ I pick up a marker and begin drawing a stick figure on the whiteboard. ‘Let’s look at some sentences about Bob. He’s going to help us see when we should and should not use commas in our sentences.’
“My illustration on the whiteboard is far from a masterpiece. In fact, my tutoring students are laughing at it. But they’re also sitting up straight in their chairs now and all eyes are on me.”
#3 – Anthony Moore. In “How to Be an Irresistible Conversationalist and Make People Laugh More,” Anthony begins with an anecdote and a snippet of dialogue from a movie as a segue into his own story, which also involves stammering.
“In the Academy Award-winning picture The King’s Speech, there’s a scene where speech therapist Lionel Logue (Geoffrey Rush) asks King George IV (Colin Firth), a chronic stammerer, ‘Do you know any jokes?’
“The king hesitates. ‘Eh … ehm …’ he stammers. ‘T-timing isn’t my strong suit,’ he laughs darkly.”
Now you’ve seen a few examples, here are a few pointers on crafting them.
How to Craft an Anecdote
1. Figure out the point you want to make.
2. Choose a relevant event that happened to you or someone else that is an example of your point. Think of a real-life story that involved a problem—for example, a challenge, a mistake, a life-changing moment, a conflict, or a misunderstanding. To be clear about the point of your anecdote, ask yourself why you’re including it. What purpose does it serve? Make sure it has some relevant value.
3. Structure your ideas and put your story together.
4. Write your story like fiction. Tell it briefly. Write it out and cut out the bits you don’t need. Omit any boring details and parts that don’t support your point.
5. Draw a conclusion. Remind readers of your point.
Anecdotes are your opportunity to provide a personal touch to your writing. They help your reader get to know a bit about you, your life, your experiences, and your values. By sharing a little story about yourself, you can show your quirky side, give a brief look at your experience, or convey your view on a topic.
Because we’re wired for stories, anecdotes add a sticky factor to your writing to keep readers engaged.
Writing a good anecdote takes practice. We learn by example. Keep your eyes out for those small stories in the writing you read. Brush up on your storytelling skills. Your readers will appreciate you for them.
Find a sample article that contains an anecdote, similar to the examples above. Note how the writer crafts the story. How is the writer using the anecdote? What point does the anecdote support?
Lesson 10 coming up is the last in this course. (Sob.) But it’s one of my favorite conversation techniques. (Hooray!)
Have fun writing,
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