Anecdotes to Essays
Anecdotes are brief stories from our own experiences. A personal essay can be constructed when we take these stories and give them the narrative structure of a beginning, middle, and end. It also establishes a sort of “moral” or “lesson” that was learned because of this experience.
George Orwell, who penned the novels 1984 and Animal Farm, was also famous for his personal essays that told tales of his time in Burma and London. These narratives often had a political undercurrent to them.
In today’s blog, we’ll be discussing how you can turn your anecdotes into personal essays.
Distilling Your Anecdote
Here are some steps to help you breakdown the narrative structure and details of your anecdote.
- Decide what anecdote you’re going to use. It could be one experience, or even a group of experiences tied together.
- Write down your story as simply as possible. What are the basic beats of the story? What makes up the basic structure?
- Build the world of your anecdote by recalling as many details as possible. Describe each of the five senses you experienced at each story beat. Can you remember what the weather was like that day? Is there a specific image that sticks in your mind every time you remember this experience? Or any specific details about the people who also might have been there?
- Talking of the other people, think about their role in your story. Are they inconsequential or would changing their actions alter your tale? Can you imagine their thought process throughout the story? How would they tell it differently/the same?
- If you were to give a moral to your anecdote what would it be? Are you praising or condemning your actions? Or were you an indifferent bystander? Is there something you know now that you wished you’d known then?
Turning Your Anecdote into An Essay
Once you have all this information. The next step is writing.
- Create an outline for your essay. Use the story beat map from above to organise your experience into a beginning, middle, and end.
- Be sure to set up the world of your essay in the intro. This is also the time to either explicitly state, or allude to, the moral of the story. Tell the reader why they should keep reading.
- Be specific. Use sensory descriptors to engage the audience. Describe each beat of the story in detail, and make sure they all lead up to the main point of the essay.
- Remember to conclude your essay. This is where you discuss the moral/lesson of your anecdote as well as what you think you learned and how it impacted your life.
- Proofread your work. Make sure your intentions are clear and comprehendible. Maybe have a friend read over your writing and have them describe back the experience to you. Then you’ll be able to see which details and descriptions are the most memorable and impactful.
- Show, don’t tell. An important mantra in all storytelling. It means using descriptions that make the reader feel like they’re there with you.
- Let your story speak for itself. Try not to bog down the essence of your anecdote with melodrama or wordy prose. Your emotions and experiences will shine through if you are true to their portrayal.