… when along came an anecdote …
“What the hell?”
I traced the words back to the beginning. There! Right there! She lost me …
What you just read was an anecdotal lead (or ‘intro’ for those who’ve never taken a journalism class). If you read National Geographic, you will see that all the articles start out with anecdotes. The writer is in the middle of the action in the middle of the Amazon, probably in the middle of a realization about the size of the fish leaping toward his face right now!
The reason is simple — anecdotes are action and they put the reader right in the middle of your story.
Anecdotes don’t necessarily work for fiction, but they’re gold for creative non-fiction and memoirs. Anecdotes create vibrant introductions, set moods, dictate rhythm and pace. They bring telling moments to a story, and especially if you’re writing your life story, you want it to be vibrant.
I’m often surprised at how many people, even solid writers, do not think to use anecdotes. Especially when they’re starting a chapter or section. In fact, people tend to go the opposite way. They write a totally unnecessary couple sentences that attempt to qualify what you’re about to read. And are painfully obvious (and often painful) about it.
You know the kinds of sentences I’m talking about. Ones that go something like “In the kitchen, the myriad of spices on your shelf can combine to bring you a plethora of flavors to tease your pallet.” A, we know where the spices are kept; B, we know how spices work; and C, that sentence really sucks. Please, if I leave nothing else behind to benefit this world, let it be that people listened to me when I said ‘Don’t ever write a sentence like that, ever!’
You don’t need to qualify what you say. Just say it. Anecdotes are little bundles of joy from the writing stork, only without the colic and poop. They ignite your writing and infuse your life, which — I’m sorry to tell you — is not interesting until you trim out the fat.
The secret to using anecdotes is the same badly kept secret to good writing overall — show us what happened. And say it as if you were saying it out loud. When you’re at the dinner table, you wouldn’t start out a story about some nut job at work by talking about the office decor. Yo would say something like “So I’m at my desk working on a database and this guy comes in with an armful of pumpkin pies!”
As speakers, we all know how to get right into a story. It’s the same for writing. Use moments of your life to tell us about your life. Your memoirs and non-fiction stories will sing. And your readers will be glad to listen.