Using Anecdotes To Flavor Your Articles

An anecdote is a little story that writers use to enrich their articles. Anecdotes flavor articles by adding a human quality to them, by giving inside information about small things that actually happened to people, and often by giving insights into human frailties, characteristics, and qualities that could not be shown as vividly any other way.

Almost everyone is familiar with the anecdote–Reader’s Digest publishes dozens of short, humorous ones each month. Within an article, an anecdote doesn’t have to have a punch line. But it does have to have a point–a point related to the point you are making in the article.

In his book The Writer’s Complete Guide to Conducting Interviews, freelancer Michael Schumacher used a personal anecdote to reinforce his advice to leave your tape recorder on as long as possible:

I learned this lesson the hard way, years ago, when I interviewed author Norman Mailer. As soon as we had concluded the formal questioning in the interview, I packed my tape recorder and notebook into my shoulder bag, while Mailer signed the books I’d brought to the interview. At one point, he asked me if I’d ever worked on a book-length project, and I told him I was working on a novel. While he inscribed my books, Mailer talked about the problems he had had in finishing some of his books; he spoke of how tough it was to write novels and gave me a few words of encouragement. While he was talking, I couldn’t help but think about my packed-away tape recorder. Some of Mailer’s observations were as good as anything he’d given me during the interview itself.

Notice how Schumacher’s anecdote is a story in itself: It has a beginning that sets the scene, a body that describes what happened during the incident, and a conclusion that drives home the story’s point. The anecdotes in your articles–whether they come from your own experience or are told to you by someone you interview–should follow the same beginning-middle-end structure.

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