How to Write a Personal Anecdote

How to Write a Personal Anecdote

Writing a personal anecdote is a self-revealing exercise. Anecdotes give a rare glimpse into the inner workings of the writer's life, and they are not always flattering. Their purpose is to present a piece of the writer's humanity for the reader to react to and reflect upon. Subject matter varies; personal anecdotes can be about childhood, marriage, school days, siblings, embarrassing moments, love affairs and friendship. Using personal anecdotes within an essay is a creative way to draw your audience's attention.

1 Topic Selection

Know your purpose. Using an anecdote is typically a strategic move within a narrative; it is used to make a point, to evoke emotion, introduce humor, reveal strength, etc. When choosing which story from your life to discuss, make sure the subject matter aligns with your reason for telling the story. For example, if you're writing an essay to prove your attention to detail, don't include an anecdote about the time you accidentally wore pajamas to school.

2 Creating an Outline

Get the details together. Before writing the anecdote, use a scratch sheet of paper to list everything you remember about the event. Ask yourself about the five senses: What am I tasting/touching/seeing/hearing/feeling right now? If the event occurred outside, what was the weather? Where was the sun? If the event occurred indoors, what time of day was it? Was the television on? Well-placed details in an anecdote can help the reader imagine the event through your eyes. Be descriptive and you will draw the reader into the experience and make it more believable.

3 Writing the Narrative

Get right to it. Don't write sentences introducing the anecdote; allow the anecdote to stand on its own. Use the elements of suspense and surprise to bait the reader into your world. Instead of writing, "Allow me to tell you about the time I accidentally shot a hole through the hat my little brother wore," begin with, "My dad usually kept his gun locked high in the cabinet above the bookcase in the den, but one afternoon, he forgot to put it away. He was busy arguing with my uncle over who's rabbit kill was biggest."

4 Use Authenticity

Write how you talk. The purpose of an anecdote is to give the reader a glimpse into your world, not into your over-sized brain. Use conversational speech instead of hundred-dollar words. If you must use big words, make sure they're a part of your story and not a part of your description. For example, it's fine to write, "My mom bought me a word-a-day calendar, so I decided to get my money's worth. Instead of 'good morning,' I began saying 'salutations.' Instead of milk, I asked for 'bovine mammalian lactation.' " However, it's not a good idea to write, "She gave my refractory and olfactory senses a pleasing reaction" rather than "She looked and smelled good."

5 Wrapping it Up

Conclude the narrative with a discussion of why the narrative was important, or what you learned from it. This explains to the audience what they should take away from your narrative.

Oubria Tronshaw specializes in topics related to parenting and business. She received a Bachelor of Arts in creative writing from the Santa Fe University of Art and Design, and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Chicago State University. She currently teaches English at Harper Community College in the Chicago area.