Anecdote Essay Examples

I. What is an Anecdote?

An anecdote (pronounced an-ik-doh-tuh) is a very short story that is significant to the topic at hand; usually adding personal knowledge or experience to the topic. Basically, anecdotes are stories. Like many stories, anecdotes are most often told through speech; they are spoken rather than written down.

The term “anecdote” originally comes from the Greek phrase ἀνέκδοτα , meaning “things unpublished.”

 

II. Examples of Anecdotes

Example 1

Picture a mother and a father discussing whether or not to get a dog for the family. The father says:

You know, when I was a kid, my dog was my best friend. My childhood was better because of him.

The mother contemplates his story—a.k.a. his anecdote—and then agrees that they should get a dog.

Example 2

Sometimes anecdotes are funny or effective because they interrupt an important moment. Imagine a big wedding dinner on a TV sitcom. The best man is giving a speech, when suddenly another guest, clearly drunk, stands up and yells:

That reminds me of a wild party I went to with the groom, before he got that new ball and chain! If you had told me back then that he would choose just ONE woman, I never would have believed it!

The audience laughs at his drunken anecdote, while the bride looks at the groom in anger. Here, the anecdote brings both humor and tension to the moment.

Example 3

Anecdotes can be as simple as a relative joke. Picture a group of friends discussing their Halloween costumes for this year. One friend says:

I was an owl last year—it was a real hoot!

Her friends groan and giggle. Here, the anecdote is told just to bring laughter.

 

III. Types of Anecdotes

Anecdotes can be presented in an endless number of forms. Below are several typical types of anecdotes.

a. Humorous

An anecdote that adds humor to the topic at hand. For example, two friends are arguing about driving directions. The driver tells the passenger to turn off the GPS, insisting that he knows the way. The passenger replies, “oh, like the time we turned it off and ended up out in the middle of that cow farm?!”  We then see a flashback of their car surrounded by loudly mooing cows.

b. Reminiscent

A story that remembers something general about the past or a specific event, expressed in ways such as “that reminds me of…”, “when I used to…”, “I remember when…”, and so on. For example, a child asks her grandmother for $2 to buy candy at the store, and the grandmother says, “you know back in my day, all you needed was a penny to go to the candy shop! My grandmother would give me a nickel and I’d be a happy clam!”

c. Philosophical

An anecdote expressed in order to make others think more deeply about the topic at hand. For example, a group of college students are discussing the morality of lying; most are arguing that it is never okay to lie. One student offers an anecdote to the others: “what about families who lied to German soldiers, you know, about hiding Jews in their homes during World War II? Do the lives saved justify the lies they told?” The students then contemplate the validity of their prior arguments.

d. Inspirational

An anecdote that is told in order to inspire hope or other positive emotions. They are often about not giving up, achieving goals or dreams, making the impossible possible, and so on. For example, a doctor talking to a group of war amputees tells them about a soldier who came in with no hands and no hope—but left the hospital holding his newborn baby in his prosthetic hands.

e. Cautionary

Stories that warn others about the dangers or negative consequences surrounding the topic at hand. For example, a speaker is giving a talk to teenagers about the risks of using drugs. During his presentation, he reminds them of a well-known straight-A student who died of a heroin overdose a few years before; warning them that it could happen to anyone.

 

IV. Importance of Anecdotes

Anecdotes, like other forms of stories, are common and highly effective devices found throughout literature, film, television, theater, and even real life. Anecdotes make conversations or dialogue more personal and interesting. Usually, they are employed in a way that will make the audience and/or other characters laugh or think more deeply about a topic.

 

V. Examples of Anecdotes in Literature

Example 1

A very famous anecdote in literature is from Swann’s Way of Marcel Proust’s In Search of Lost Time novels, when he recalls a specific time that he ate a madeleine cookie. Below is a small selection from this memory:

Many years had elapsed during which nothing of Combray, save what was comprised in the theatre and the drama of my going to bed there, had any existence for me, when one day in winter, as I came home, my mother, seeing that I was cold, offered me some tea, a thing I did not ordinarily take. I declined at first, and then, for no particular reason, changed my mind. She sent out for one of those short, plump little cakes called ‘petites madeleines,’ which look as though they had been moulded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell.

Proust uses this anecdote in part of an ongoing discussion on memory and remembrance of the past. For him, this particular childhood moment represents one of his strongest and most intense memories, particularly of those tied to senses.

Example 2

In Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, Albus Dumbledore is having a conversation with a visiting headmaster about the knowledge they have of their own castles. Dumbledore then says:

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’s brief story is related to their conversation; it gives a personal example to support his view on the topic, and provides something for Igor to ponder. Furthermore, the anecdote makes Dumbledore appear humble against his visitor’s prideful attitude.

Example 3

Anecdotes don’t always have to be personal; some are just interesting stories about specific people or subjects. The Book of Three Hundred Anecdotes, for instance, includes 300 brief stories about topics from affection to librarians to war. The following anecdote is from the topic “Forgiveness”:

Mariè Antoinette.—On the elevation of this princess to the throne after the death of Louis XV., an officer of the body-guard, who had given her offence on some former occasion, expressed his intention of resigning his commission; but the queen forbade him. “Remain,” said she, “forget the past as I forgive it.”

Each of the anecdotes provides a brief account of something related to its adjacent topic. The book is filled with similar stories referencing historical figures, places, books, ideas, etc for each topic included; providing anecdotes for any and all conversations.

 

VI. Examples of Anecdotes in Pop Culture

Example 1

Sometimes anecdotes can bring up the past while also foreshadowing the future. In the movie, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Gandalf shows the Fellowship the mines in Moria, where they tirelessly mined for Mithril, a valuable metal. He then shares a short relative story—an anecdote—about how Bilbo once had a shirt made of Mithril. The audience already knows that Frodo now has that very shirt, thus Gandalf’s anecdote teaches the Fellowship something about Mithril while simultaneously foreshadowing that the shirt will be important in the future.

Example 2

The comedyModern Family is full of funny anecdotes. In this scene, Phil has a gift for Claire followed by an anecdote about the gift. He then has a subsequent anecdote about how “easy” it was to get the porch swing:

Claire: What is it?
Phil: It’s the actual porch swing where we had our first kiss.
Claire: No.
Phil: Check it out. The carvings are still on the back from 25 years ago.
Claire: Oh, my gosh. “Phil hearts Claire.” Oh, honey, this is gonna look so great out on our porch. I can’t believe you did this. Wow!
Phil: It was nothing. I made a few calls, – drove half a day –
Claire: Uh-huh.
Phil: had Campari and haggled with a handsy gay landlord, took the swing apart, loaded it in a van, ran out of gas in the desert, got harassed by a shady state trooper, and drove back with a blinding migraine. But easy-peasy.

 

VII. Related Terms

Quote

A quote is something that has been said by a person, not necessarily a story. Sometimes, quotes are used as anecdotes, which leads some to wrongly use the terms “anecdote” and “quote” interchangeably.

VII. Conclusion

In conclusion, anecdotes are valuable literary devices because of their diversity in style, tone, and utility—they can be used by almost any person, in any situation, in any genre. Like any story shared with others, anecdotes serve countless purposes and make situations more interesting for both the characters and the audience. An anecdote is a timeless device that is used across literature, film, television and theater, and has been benefiting storytellers for centuries.

Phil's Romantic Surprise – Modern Family 8×12

College Application Essays

In Search of an Anecdote


Just yesterday, one of my tutoring students, a high school junior, wanted help on her English assignment: To write a practice college application essay.

One tip from her teacher was to tell a story. (I first explained to my student the important difference between telling a story and using an anecdote.)

After a few minutes brainstorming, we honed in on the topic of how she values the relationship with her “little sister,” who was really the daughter of her mom’s boyfriend.

The mom and boyfriend had recently broken up, and my student was going to share how she intended to maintain this special friendship even though it would be very difficult from now on.

I asked her to think of some examples of her close friendship with her “little sister.”

She said they loved to laugh together.

I asked if she could think of an example of “a time” when they shared one of these silly moments. I was fishing for a “moment” or “time” that she could use as an anecdote to her essay.

This is how you find anecdotes: Look for real-life examples that illustrate or demonstrate a point you want to make.

RELATED: My Video Tutorial on How to Write an Anecdote: Part One

She told me about a recent visit to a restaurant where they shared a laugh together.

I asked her for details–where were they, what happened, how did they react, etc.

She needed to set the scene, and start the description of that moment right in the middle of the action, instead of building up to it.

 

 

Here’s the anecdote she crafted to use as the introduction to her essay:

While waiting for our blueberry pancakes and omelettes to arrive, my little sister decided to pick up one of her crayons and toss it at me. Instead of hitting me, it flew past the side of my head and hit a man sitting behind us at another table at our local IHOP.

My sister’s blue eyes flew open. “Oh my God,” she mouthed at me, her hand covering her mouth. Fortunately, the man didn’t seem to notice, but we both doubled over laughing. We had to bury our faces in our sleeves so no one would hear.

(After anecdote, she shared background) It was just one of the typical silly moments that we have shared together since I first met Molly Bowen almost six years ago. She is the daughter of my mom’s longtime boyfriend. Even though she is four years younger than me, we hit it off the first time we met. I even call her my sister.

In the rest of her essay, my student would go back to explain when she first met her “little sister” and talk about their friendship, other things they enjoyed doing together, the impact of their parent’s break-up, how she felt and thought about it, what she had learned from it, etc.

How To Craft an Anecdote

If you are going to try an anecdote in your essay, here are some of the common elements that my student used in hers—and you can use them in yours, too. My student:

  • told about one experience, which only lasted over the course of several minutes. Most anecdotes only capture a little moment in time.
  • chose a moment that was an example of the larger point of her essay. In this case, this moment showed us the type of silly interactions that seal their friendship.
  • set the scene using descriptive language and details (blueberry pancakes, IHOP, crayon); and told us the 5Ws (who, what, when, where, and why).
  • included a little snippet of dialogue to give it a fiction-like style.
  • described a moment that had some action, and involved a problem (the crayon hit a stranger) to create drama.
  • wrote in the first-person (I, we, us).

These are not easy to write. They take practice. The best way is to write out an account of the moment, and then go back and try to trim it down to a paragraph or two, leaving only the details that you need to recreate the moment. One of the best ways to learn how to write anecdotes is to read them. A great source are newspaper and magazine articles, especially feature stories, and other sample college essays.

RELATED: My Video Tutorial on How to Write an Anecdote: Part One

I tried to find a good example online and this little classic anecdote from a master humorist and memoir writer, David Sedaris, popped up. He wrote this as the introduction to a piece he wrote in The New Yorker magazine, called Turbulence.

I thought it was funny that it was similar to the little moment that my student used in her anecdote! (Note that this is how he starts his essay.)

On the flight to Raleigh, I sneezed, and the cough drop I’d been sucking on shot from my mouth, ricocheted off my folded tray table, and landed, as I remember it, in the lap of the woman beside me, who was asleep and had her arms folded across her chest. I’m surprised that the force didn’t wake her—that’s how hard it hit—but all she did was flutter her eyelids and let out a tiny sigh, the kind you might hear from a baby.

See how his anecdote uses all the same elements that my student’s did? Starts in the middle of the scene, lets us know the 5Ws, includes a little action, is an example of the larger point (if you read the entire piece you will see this), and describes a moment that only lasts a minute or so. And that they both were funny sure never hurts when you are trying to “grab” your reader!

 

 

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