In my last update on Rose, I mentioned that I was probably going to do a whole lot of revisions and possibly a ton of rewriting, owing to the fact that the flashbacks were deemed unnecessary to the story and I had to throw them out or modify them. Well, I am rewriting a good chunk of the novel. It’s not what I’d hoped for, but sometimes you have to do what you have to do. And while I’m still trying to figure out the final third of the novel, I have figured out the second third for the most part, as well as other things that I plan to include in the story. And one of those things I plan to use is something I call mini-anecdotes.*

Mini-anecdotes are something I’ve noticed a lot in fiction, particularly fiction aimed for adults. They’re not like flashbacks or mini-flashbacks, but they’re related. A mini-anecdote is when a character briefly thinks of a past experience, usually something that can be associated with the current moment in the story. It’s not a flashback, as it’s not going into the character’s past in order to show them something. It’s more like a quick summary of a flashback. A good example would be in The Shining (which I’m rereading now), when Jack is doing handyman work around the hotel’s playground and park, and thinks back to the park he went to with his dad growing up. This not only gives us a bit more on Jack’s past and who he is as a person, but also gives us a brief illustration about his relationship with his dad, which we learn further about in the novel.

Other great examples of mini-anecdotes can be found throughout the Harry Potter books. In the first book, we learn how Harry’s life has been strange since he was small: ending up on the school roof, his hair growing back overnight, a sweater shrinking as his aunt is trying to force it on him. This isn’t a full flashback, but it gives us a very good idea of what Harry’s life has been like up until Dudley’s eleventh birthday, as well as what he’s like based on his reactions to the strange things around him. And in the third book, we get a brief glimpse of Harry’s relationship with his Aunt Marge, how she also mistreats him and spoils Dudley, and once let her dog chase Harry up a tree while laughing at his misfortune. It’s an illustrative moment on how awful Marge is and gives us an idea of what we can expect from her during her appearance in the story.

Now, I’ve only just started identifying mini-anecdotes in fiction, so I’m not an expert at using them yet. Just as you can”t really be a great writer even if you’ve read hundreds of novels, you can’t immediately use mini-anecdotes even if you’ve seen them in hundreds of books. However, I think I’ve identified a few things that might make using them in Rose a bit easier:

  • They’re brief. Seems rather self-explanatory, but it needs to be stated. Mini-anecdotes are usually only a couple of sentences or paragraphs at most. The longest may be only two pages at most, but they don’t go on for several pages. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a flashback, and as I stated in a previous post, flashbacks can be difficult to use effectively.
  • Little dialogue or details. Mini-anecdotes tend to be very bare bones. They may have a few lines of dialogue, but no long speeches. And certainly not enough detail like the shape of a building or all the thoughts going through a character’s head. It’s more summary, telling vs. showing, than anything else. Going into anything more would be going into flashback, most likely. And as I said, those have strings attached.
  • They’re connected to the present. Like Harry’s early experiences with magic or his aunt, these mini-anecdotes have to connect to the story’s present, either to illustrate a point, give us further insight into a character, or just to help us connect to them more. Having one for the sake of having one will do you no favors. After all, you wouldn’t want to have a romantic scene that suddenly goes into a character’s dislike of geese, do you?

While these won’t help a writer (let alone me) use mini-anecdotes well, they can be a starting point for their use. And if we as writers can learn to use them well, then we can use them to make our stories better and more memorable to readers. And in the end, isn’t that part of the reason we write in the first place?

Do you use mini-anecdotes in your stories? What tips do you have for writing them?

*At least that’s what I call them. I don’t know if there’s a technical term for them. If there is, please let me know in the comments below.

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Comments
  1. I have no idea what the technical term is – that one sounds good to me! And yes, I do use them, especially in the Executioner stories because it helps me pack more into the short story. 🙂

  2. I never even thought of this technique, though I’ve used it in almost every story I’ve written. I like “mini-anecdotes” to explain it.

    You know, I guess I tend to do a sentence to a paragraph when I do mine. For example, “She put on the red sweater. Every time she saw the color red, it reminded her of her sister. Her sister thought the color red made things more lively. She swallowed the lump in her throat. No matter how many years passed by, the memory of her sister still brought tears to her eyes.” Then I’d have the character leave the room and do whatever she was going to do.

    I guess it’s all about weaving a little something into the story that helps to add some flavor to the character. This was a very enlightening post. I never seriously considered this aspect to storytelling before.

    Thanks for writing this!

    • You’re welcome. I’d been meaning to blog something for a day or two, and this felt like the right thing to get passionate enough about. I’m glad people are finding it helpful.

      Hopefully I can weave some of these into Rose and enhance the story with it.

  3. Adan Ramie says:

    I love the term mini-anecdote, and I think I probably use them in most of my stories. I can’t think of any specific examples, though. Food for thought!

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