Once again, I’ve come up with another writing analogy. Ready? Writing is like playing football – it has lots of rules. Sometimes I’m astounded how I’m just flipping about the internet, bouncing from one site to the next, happily reading, and fwop! Some writing rule is shared and it’s new to me. Luckily, whether it’s karma, common sense, or just dumb luck, after reading the latest one, I was able to swipe my forehead and let out a big fat “phew!” I’ve somehow stumbled into the right direction – again!
This latest had to do with anecdote versus story. It came from an online magazine and the editor explained the difference between the two. Turns out this is one of the top reasons for them to reject a story. She said if they add a note, it will be something like, “Anecdote, not story.” Based on that fact, I had to know more and so, I continued reading. (My first thought is always whether I’m doing what they don’t want…and of course if I am, then I want to stop.)
I’m glad to say, I’m not the only one ignorant to this rejection qualifier. The editor said many writers don’t know the difference, and she didn’t either when she applied to complete her MFA. She said it took her three years to nail it down.
Here’s an example:
No plot: Sam became depressed and wouldn’t leave the house.
Plot: Sam became depressed and wouldn’t leave the house after his father died.
It’s about cause and effect. This happens, which makes this happen, and then that happens, and on and on. A natural progression. When writing a story, you want to make sure stuff happens in reaction to an event. What made this stand out for me was the post I did March 26th, (What’s Your Secret). In some roundabout way, this was a similar point to what’s being made here. I mentioned that events should come about “organically.” And that’s in the same vein of thinking. And to expand on that (again, I know), you don’t want your characters just acting out for no reason. They should be doing whatever it is they’re doing for a reason. Cause and effect.
As a basic description, cause is why something happens, and effect is what happens. In my example, what happens? Sam becomes depressed and won’t leave the house. Why? Because his father died. The plot of the story lies behind their relationship, what made Sam fall into that state, etc.
No plot: Lisa is selling her house and valuables.
Plot: Lisa is selling her house and valuables to pay off her bookie.
Another what and why, and the story lies behind why would a nice girl like Lisa be doing business with a bookie? (Hmmm, could be a good story there.)
From online, the definition of anecdote is as follows: “An anecdote is defined as a short and interesting story or an amusing event often proposed to support or demonstrate some point and make readers and listeners laugh.”
The first thing that comes to mind are the stories used when speaking in public. Someone will get up and tell about their personal experience in order to support whatever is being discussed in the forum or meeting. Yes, they are like stories too, but there is no expectation of a cause and effect. No why or what. It’s more about sharing an experience, or some piece of knowledge. I always think about AA meetings (not that I’ve been to one) but the ones I’ve watched on TV and how folks in these meetings stand up and share a story of how they became alcoholics, and in some ways this can be confusing. Most of them did so for a reason – hence cause and effect, right? Yes – and no. We don’t expect a lengthy, plot driven reason. The point of anecdote is short, to the point, and make the reader/listener laugh or think about the topic more deeply.
And so…, with that thought, tell me, are you comfortable with the “why’s” and “what’s'” of your story?