An anecdote is a short story or account about a person or event that is typically amusing, informative, entertaining, or biographical in nature. Anecdotes usually relate to the subject matter that people are discussing to make a point or simply share a relevant story. They can be used in everyday life or in literature. For example, if coworkers are discussing pets, and one person tells a story about how her cat comes downstairs at a certain time every night, then that individual has just shared an anecdote.
Anecdotes cover a wide variety of stories and tales, especially since they can be about basically any subject under the sun. You might be checking out at the supermarket one day and the cashier comments on your brand of apple juice. Perhaps that will spark the employee to share a quick story about the summer she and her four-year-old went apple picking in Upstate New York. That's an anecdote; such stories come up all the time. Other everyday examples of anecdotes include:
I once had a border collie. She was so smart! Every morning, I'd open up the front door and she'd run out, pick up the newspaper and deliver it to my husband at the breakfast table.
Oh, I love Ireland! I visited the west coast six times last year. Last time I went to Kilmacduagh, an old monastery where the winds whip with songs of the deceased who are laid to rest there. While I was there, I swore I heard something. I think it was a ghost!
El Meson is my favorite Mexican restaurant. They have the best Sunday brunch every week. One time when I went there, they prepared a wonderful traditional buffet with tetelas, gordita de harina, café de olla in a clay pot, and more that you just can’t get anywhere else. It was just like my abuela used to make!
Is that a white rose? Wow! I love them. My grandfather had a massive rose garden with over 200 different species. Every Friday, he'd go out into the garden, clip a dozen, and make my grandmother a bouquet. Does love like that exist anymore?
It's very common for people to share stories about their childhood experiences with friends and other family members. Reminiscing in this way can be a lot of fun. It's also a great way to get a conversation started or keep one going. After all, everyone has childhood experiences they can share, and to which others can relate.
When I was a child, my family went on a summer vacation to the Great Smoky Mountains every year. One year, my aunt saw a black bear while she was hiking. She was so terrified, she ended up sitting on a boulder for an hour just to make sure it had gotten far enough away from her. She still won't go hiking alone anywhere.
I remember learning how to swim. I took lessons at the community pool in the town where I grew up. One of the lifeguards, Ms. Jen, really helped me get comfortable with holding my breath. She'd play this bobbing game with us that had a fun song to go along with it. Whenever I get in a pool, I still sing that song in my head.
Some of my favorite childhood memories revolve around the time I spent helping my mother plant and tend a vegetable garden in our backyard. She let me help till the rows and plant the seeds. Going near okra plants made her itch, so she let me pick all of that myself. To this day, okra makes me think of her.
Before I had my tonsils removed in sixth grade, I was sick a lot. I got strep throat often and I missed a lot of school. I dreaded going to the doctor, as I would always get a shot and foul-tasting medicine. After the tonsillectomy, I hardly ever got sick again. As a result, middle school was a lot better for me than elementary school.
People experience interesting things throughout their lives, not just during childhood. Sharing anecdotes about one's experiences is a fun way to interact with friends, coworkers and family members.
One evening, I went to see a movie with my roommate and some other people from our dorm. I drove my car to the theater. Imagine our surprise when we got to the car to find the windshield covered with slices of ham. To this day, I don't know who put ham on my car or why.
While walking through the neighborhood behind my mostly wooded property, I saw what I at first thought was a strange-looking white dog on the edge of the woods. I pointed it out to my husband, who recognized it as a small albino deer. It still lives in the woods. The deer is fully grown now. I see it fairly often.
My dog Cody loved the water. He loved to swim; he would swim all day long when we visited my mom. One day, she needed him out of the pool area. He was soaked, so she put him in the garage, but didn't close the windows. He leaped up five feet and soared through a screen to get to the pool.
When we were in graduate school, we had no money. My then-boyfriend (now husband) had a gas card on his father's account for emergencies. There were several times that we had no money for groceries, so we would go food shopping at the gas station convenience store using that credit card. His dad was not happy
Your favorite novels are giant stories with complex narratives. In the midst of each story, the characters might share little anecdotes with one another. It's a nice opportunity for the character to blossom and for the reader to learn more about them.
The Great Gatsby contains a number of anecdotes. In this example, Daisy Buchanan shares a story about the butler. This anecdote is significant because the Buchanan family kept the story of their butler a secret. Interpretations of this story and its importance have been discussed by readers for years.
“'I'll tell you a family secret,' she whispered enthusiastically. 'It’s about the butler’s nose. Do you want to hear about the butler’s nose?... Well, he wasn’t always a butler; he used to be the silver polisher for some people in New York that had a silver service for two hundred people. He had to polish it from morning till night, until finally it began to affect his nose --'
'Things went from bad to worse,' suggested Miss Baker.
'Yes. Things went from bad to worse until finally he had to give up his position.'”
Dumbledore shares the following anecdote with a visiting headmaster in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling. This story relays the magical majesty of Hogwarts.
"Oh, I would never dream of assuming I know all Hogwarts' secrets, Igor. Only this morning, for instance, I took a wrong turn on the way to the bathroom and found myself in a beautifully proportioned room I had never seen before, containing a really rather magnificent collection of chamber pots. When I went back to investigate more closely, I discovered that the room had vanished."
Who says anecdotes have to come from humans? The short story below was relayed by the Duck in Oscar Wilde's The Happy Prince and Other Tales.
"I had thoughts of entering public life once myself,' remarked the Duck; 'there are so many things that need reforming. Indeed, I took the chair at a meeting some time ago, and we passed resolutions condemning everything that we did not like. However, they did not seem to have much effect. Now I go in for domesticity, and look after my family."
In Nora Robert's Dark Witch, Meara relays an anecdote to Iona that provides the audience with unique insight into the relationship between the book's main characters.
"I'll tell you they were in love. Young and wild for each other. Happy in it, though they scraped and squabbles. She was going into seventeen when they came together the first time. It was after they'd been together the mark came on him. He didn't tell her. I don't know whether to blame him for that, but he didn't tell her. And when she found out, she was angry, but more, she was devastated."
Anecdotes can serve a variety of purposes. Whenever an anecdote is introduced, either in real life or fiction, it provides background or characterization information. An author might write a scene where one of the characters tells the other a bit of their backstory, usually to create depth and intrigue. In real life, anecdotes often convey meaning via stories instead of direct explanation.
Sometimes telling a story just makes people laugh or brightens the mood. Here are some examples of anecdotes meant to harken back to happy memories:
- A student writes a brief account of his favorite holiday moment for a school assignment.
- A teacher tells a brief account about the first Thanksgiving to her students before beginning a lesson plan on interactions between the pilgrims and Native Americans.
- Before Christmas morning breakfast, parents tell their children about their very first Christmas together.
In most anecdotes, people are talking about their past. They are looking back favorably on moments in their lives and sharing the joy of that time with others. Here are some examples of anecdotes with a hint of reminiscence:
- A mother tells her son a story about a family vacation when she was growing up.
- During a conversation about amusement parks, a child tells a story about his favorite trip to Disney World.
- High school students go around the classroom telling their favorite memories from elementary school.
Sometimes, just laying out rules for individuals is not effective, They need to hear frightening stories of dangers that can be avoided by following regulations. Here are some examples of cautionary anecdotes:
- At the beginning of a speech about fire safety, the speaker tells a short cautionary tale about a serious injury that occurred as a result of not following protocol.
- Before beginning a lecture on why staying out late is inappropriate, a father tells his daughter about a scary incident he had one time when he stayed out too late.
- Before giving a presentation on the dangers of drug abuse, the speaker tells the audience how he himself used to abuse drugs and explains the negative effects it brought about in his life.
Sometimes, people just want others to know they've faced similar struggles and they're there to help. They can also be conveying the message that, with a little bit of hard work, brighter futures are ahead. Here are some examples of inspirational anecdotes:
- An animal rescue team tells stories to an audience about the many successful rehoming situations that they have had over the years.
- Before beginning a tutoring session, the tutor tells the student how he used to struggle with the subject matter in the past and how he managed to grow past these difficulties.
- Church youth group leaders tell stories about their conversion or recognition experiences to the members of the group.
- A co-worker who is trying to reassure a new hire might tell a little tale from her early days on the job to help reassure the new team member.
An anecdote isn't a full work of writing on its own. Think of it as a small story within a larger story. The key to writing anecdotes is to know what you want to accomplish and think of a brief way to convey the message in a story form.
- Anecdotes should be super-short stories that can be related to others quickly in conversation or in writing.
- An anecdote should sound natural. Apply these conversational writing tips when crafting an anecdote.
- Anecdotes can use formal or informal diction depending on the subject matter and characterization.
- Keep it short and to the point, as it's important to keep the audience engaged throughout the anecdote.
Anecdotes don't always have to serve specific purposes. They can just be part of a natural conversation with friends and family. They're a nice way to get to know one another and to engage in fun dialogue. That's why anecdotes are such a useful tool for writers. What better way to get to know characters than through their own retelling? Build your storytelling skills even more by learning how to use a wide variety of rhetorical devices. Soon, you'll be highly skilled with all kinds of literary devices.