Anecdotes cover a wide variety of stories and tales, especially since they can be about basically any subject under the sun. What is an anecdote? An anecdote is a short story about a real person or event, usually serving to make the listeners laugh or ponder over a topic. Generally, the anecdote will relate to the subject matter that the group of people is discussing.
For example, if a group of coworkers are discussing pets, and one coworker tells a story about how her cat comes downstairs at a certain time every night, then that coworker has just shared an anecdote. Let's look at some more examples of anecdotes.
The above example between coworkers is a sound one. Anecdotes pop up all day, every day. You might be checking out at the supermarket one day and the cashier comments on your brand of apple juice. Perhaps it'll spark a little story about the summer the cashier and her four-year-old went apple picking in upstate New York. Here are some more examples:
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. Have you ever been to Kilmacduagh? It's an old monastery where the winds whip with songs of the deceased who are laid to rest there.
Is that a white rose? Wow! I love them. My grandfather had a massive rose garden, 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?
Of course, our favorite novels are just giant stories. 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. Here are some examples:
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.
- Dumbledore to a visiting headmaster in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
I like talking to myself. It is one of my greatest pleasures. I often have long conversations all by myself, and I am so clever sometimes I don't understand a single word of what I am saying.
- The Rocket from The Happy Prince and Other Tales by Oscar Wilde
Still, it's not easy to say to you what she hasn't. 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. He was defensive and the same. So, it's been an open wound between them ever since. A dozen years of wanting and turmoil and too much distrust.
- Meara to Iona in Dark Witch by Nora Roberts
Whenever an anecdote is introduced, either in real life or fiction, it provides background information. A co-worker might tell a little tale from her childhood and all that does is paint a brighter picture for the other person. 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. Let's explore some of the purposes behind anecdotes.
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 the pilgrims and Native Americans' interactions.
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 teenagers in the group.
Of course, anecdotes don't have to serve such 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.
That's why they're a useful literary device for writers. What better way to get to know characters than through their own retelling? Learn more about rhetorical devices in this article. You'll review everything from alliteration to hyperbole, and parallelism too.