ANECDOTE vs. STORY What’s the Difference?

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When I first started writing I got a few rejections saying my pieces were anecdotes and not stories. After I’d dried my tears, I began to wonder what the difference was?

What is it that makes a story a story, and an anecdote something you tell your friends but don’t get published?

MEANING.

An ANECDOTE is an incident from our lives that we tell our mates down at the pub or over a cup of tea. This tale may have many of the elements of a story – setting, characters and action – but usually that’s it.

For example –

When people notice the scar running from my forehead down along my left temple beside my eye, I tell them an anecdote about how, when I was fourteen, I was searching for organisms out on the rocks at Deadman’s Beach (true!) during my school biology camp on Stradbroke Island.

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A huge wave came hurtling towards us and I braced myself by facing into the barnacle covered rocks, gripping on for dear life. The wave crashed over me and my classmates, and smashed my face into the rocks, dragging me as it fled back out to sea, grating my face against the barnacles. Adrenaline pumping, I scrambled to my feet and leapt  over the rocks, racing to shore where my poor teacher was greeted with a bloody mess like Sissy Spacek at the end of Carrie.

I was almost helicoptered back to Brisbane, but the local island doctor was used to shark bites and stitched my face back together again – sixty stitches in all. I wasn’t a pretty sight. Once I got back home my friend took some photos and we entered me in a Dolly Magazine Covergirl Competition. We thought we were pretty funny. Needless to say, I didn’t win 🙂

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As you can see, this anecdote has plenty of action and drama and even a happy ending. But it’s not a story. WHY?

Because it only tells what happened. An anecdote doesn’t reflect on the events and dig deeper to find meaning.

STORIES on the other hand are how humans make sense of the world and what happens to us. They delve deep into the emotional heart of what that incident meant to us and how we were changed as a result. A story creates MEANING from the meaningless.

For example –

What if I told you this accident happened only a couple of months after the death of my young father? What if I told you that when the wave hit something inside me hoped that it would tear me away and take me to where my father was. What if I wrote about how, as the doctor stitched my face back together again, he sang the Death March. What if I wrote about how my best friend tenderly helped me wash the blood out of my hair that night as I sat in a cold bath. What if I told you that I lay awake for hours in my bunk, trying to convince myself that my father’s death had been a bad dream I’d had while knocked out, that he would be waiting for me on the other side of the ferry?

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Then we’d have a story.  A story I haven’t written yet, but just might.

“Dig deeper,” I tell the memoirists I edit and teach. Don’t be afraid. Go deeper and find the true heart of your story. Turn that anecdote into something that touches people.

Have you got an anecdote or two you could dig deeper into to create meaning? Search hard enough and everything that happens has another layer of story reflecting human experience.

That’s what we writers do, we write to make sense of the world.

Want to learn more? Come along to my next retreat in the mountains with a special focus on memoir writing. Great for beginners too, and anyone needing to reboot their writing mojo!

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Let me know how you go!

Lots of love

Edwina

10 SENTENCE STORY STARTER!

The other day I dug through my creative writing files – the old fashioned sort –preparing for a workshop I was presenting for the Brisbane Writers Group, and found this fun exercise. It  took me a long time to find, I have a lot of files!woman with endless files

I first did the exercise at a workshop by the respected Australian author Rodney Hall (he won the Miles Franklin twice!) at the QLD Writers Centre well over a decade ago now. It was one of the best I’ve ever attended.

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This exercise is a simple way to start a story.

But more that, it demonstrates just how useful setting and description can be when developing the tone of a piece and even in developing character. It’s also great for showing how much impact a little repetition can have in your writing. Sound good?

Let’s do it! Get your writing tools ready!

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FIRST – Envision a scene about two people (Person A and Person B) meeting again after a long period. Anywhere, any time, any people.

For each of the following prompts write one sentence without deliberately connecting them.

  1. Weather – describe the weather

 

  1. Object – describe an object in the environment – a non-living thing

 

  1. Person A – focus on an item of clothing they’re wearing – does it do something?

 

  1. Weather – describe the weather again

 

  1. A sound – not speech

 

  1. Mood – return to the object and show it reflecting the mood of the scene

 

  1. Person A has first glimpse of Person B

 

  1. Look at 5 and repeat the sound

 

  1. Look at 3 – what is the item of clothing doing now?

 

  1. Person A says something surprising

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How did you go? Did you come up with something you weren’t expecting that was even just a little bit poetic? I hope so! It’s a great way to start a story or just get those writing juices flowing for the day.

Have you got a favourite writing prompt? I’m always looking for new ideas for my workshops so please do share in the comments.

Always looking for prompts and writing hints and tips yourself? JOIN MY LIST.

The last two spots are still available for my upcoming Magnetic Island Relax and Write Retreat June 21 -23. CONTACT ME for more information.

And last of all, I have a couple of new workshops coming up.

7 JULY at the CYA CONFERENCE which is now including a special day – WRITING FOR ALL THE MARKETS – for writers of crossover fiction and/or adults in its program. Join me for an action-packed life writing workshop!

13 JULY at the QLD WRITERS CENTRE – come along to BUILDING YOUR CAREER AS A WRITER – or as I like to call it, Many Fingers, Many Pies. This is a fun-filled creative exploration of ways to make money as a writer. We all need to make a living and finding ways to pay the bills that align with our writing dreams isn’t as hard as you may think. Come along for some brainstorming, planning and creative collaging on ways to make money from your writing skills. This afternoon workshop is being live-streamed for regional writers. Check it out.

Good luck with all your writing projects. Let me know how you go with the 10 Sentence Story starter. Hope you have fun with it!

Lots of love,

Edwina xx