The writer’s face is grim, its unhappy creases exaggerated by the dim light of the desktop lamp.
‘How can I write a post about anecdotes if I can’t think of any relevant stories?” he despaired. The blog depended on him.
The clock ticked closer to his deadline, minute by minute. He was sure his passing coworkers could smell the stink of his fear.
An open notebook laid on the desk in front of him, the taunting definition of anecdote scrawled before him:
Why can’t our hero determine a relevant story for his piece? He failed to break anecdote composition into the following steps.
1. DETERMINE “WHY” YOU WANT AN ANECDOTE
Something that isn’t clear is that before you reveal an anecdote, you must determine WHY you are using one in the first piece.
Anecdotes are engaging, drawing the reader into your content via an interesting little account.
But that alone isn’t a good reason to use an anecdote. You need to determine the lesson, or moral, of the story. If you can’t figure out a good reason, stop here, and do something else to liven up your content.
To determine the lesson of the story, ask yourself what the reader will learn after you tell your tale. In this case, our hero failed to ask the question, “why?” which is why he struggled to figure out a relevant anecdote.
Using a unifying lesson will make it that much easier to generate ideas for stories. Try to narrow it down to a sentence or two. Like this:
Now what? How does our lonely content writer figure out which anecdote to use?
2. WRITE ALL IDEAS DOWN
Flip to a blank page in your notebook (or word document if you prefer) and write down all possible stories that come to the same moral as above.
Figure out ways that seemingly irrelevant stories might be told to come to the moral you identified. Try to get three to five diverse examples.
In the case of our highly relatable content writer, he could come up with the following list:
This one is a bit flawed, as the story itself is pretty irrelevant. Next.
This one is a little strange because telling a story about telling a story gets confusing.
While still a little meta, this example works well because it’s relevant to the topic, and also has some comedic value as I break the fourth wall. It also has the advantage of being true. This is the one.
Back to the primary anecdote, now that our hero has chosen an idea, it’s time for him to tell us what happened.
3. WRITE WHAT HAPPENED
First, write out the story as it happened. Like you are complaining to your coworker. Here, make sure to mention the setting, but you don’t have to describe it just yet.
Here, I hit all the main points, which almost serves as a template for the final form of the anecdote.
4. NOW USE IMAGERY INSTEAD
Now that you have a story, focus on telling it better. Use imagery and metaphor to show the desperation of the main character.
Maybe switch the point of view from first person to third person or vice versa. Get into the nitty-gritty, drawing a picture of the scene instead of writing it in the plainest of terms.
You chose to use an anecdote to connect with the reader, creating vivid mental pictures is a great way to do so.
5. PULL IT ALL TOGETHER
Now that our hero has chosen and written his anecdote, he can move onto the rest of his article.
He writes at an easy pace now, tying in relevant references to the original anecdote that opened his article. And like any good story, his story now has a buildup, a climax, and a resolution.
His readers are engaged all the way to the end. Over the next few days, a few of them actually sign up for updates from the blog. Our hero has achieved success, as you will following the steps listed above.