In Writing and Storytelling: Anecdotes are Great – Stories are Even Better

He was 12 and I was 7.

Yep, Mark was old enough to occasionally be my babysitter on the early Friday evenings when our parents had bowling league and our older high-school-aged brother and sister had other plans.

And he knew how to make the food of the gods: buttered popcorn!

With all appropriate emergency phone numbers, neighbor’s names, and parent instructions provided, boy-oh-boy we’d have Friday evening fun! We’d play hide-and-seek with our black-and-white terrier, Pepe. We’d play Slap Jack and War and Dirty Eights. (I was shocked – shocked! – when I later learned that other people call that card game Crazy Eights! – that’s just wrong…!)

We’d put on 45s and lip-synch and dance for each other.

“Catch a falling star and put it in your pock-et, save it for a rain-y da-a-a-a-ay;” and, “The o-o-o-old, hooty-ow-w-w-wl, hooty-HOO-OO-OO-OOS from above….Ta-am-my, Ta-am-my, Tam-my’s in love;” and the best one: “HOT-diggety-DOG-ziggety-BOOM what ya DO to me – it’s so NEW to me – what ya DO to me…HOT-diggety-DOG-ziggety-BOOM…” etc.

(Hey, it was the early 60s. And if you’re not of a certain age you may need me to tell you: a 45 is a kind of record [You do know what a record is? – old-time music-listening technology!], the kind that plays a single song on each side; looks a little like an oversized black CD).

And how can one forget one’s introduction to German when it’s delivered via a tympani-accompanied polka?! “(boom –BOOM) Das ist ein Lichtensteiner polka, mein schatz…Polka, mein lieber schatz!”

Friday night was popcorn night, which made it the best night of the week.

On those occasions when the rest of the family was out and Mark was babysitting, boy was I lucky he knew how to make the popcorn (my favorite food – still is!). I’d sit on the counter and Pepe would sit on the floor and drool and we’d both watch as Mark wielded pots and pans for popping and melting. He’d pour it all into the wonderfully-big silver mixing bowl we always used, then carry it to the living room, Pepe and me skipping alongside.

Remember: He was 12 and I was 7. And because he’d made it, he was “in charge” of it…

…and he’d sit on the couch, Pepe and I would both wait on the floor… and…and…Mark…would…throw-a-piece-out-into-the-middle-of-the-living-room-carpet-and-whoever-got-there-first-me-or-the-dog-got-it.

Seriously.

Those who are youngest siblings will immediately recognize this dynamic.

! ! !

So why did I love this guy, anyway, you may well ask?!

A good anecdote – but we need the story.

While it’s really tempting to call the above a “story,” all by itself it really isn’t. Yes, there are several elements of story present: characters, setting; imagery detail; you could say that “popcorn” is the goal and a problem gets introduced…but there’s no resolution. We’re left hanging. There’s a set-up, but no solution or outcome offered.  It’s a good-sized, detailed anecdote.

Additionally, while it’s true that the opening paragraphs suggest that there was fun and warm-fuzzies in the memory being related here, consider this: Without knowing the larger story-context of the family dynamics and/or additional connecting anecdotes, I hesitate to say this but it could be the opening of a story of a very dysfunctional relationship – the story of a powerless younger sibling being regularly ill-treated by the unkind or even cruel older one, etc. [Well, it was cruel…! 😉 ] Go ahead: go back and re-read it through that lens, perhaps, and see what you think about that.

The above paragraph is a suggested “f’rinstance” exercise. The real story, however…

I love relating this Mark-and-me anecdote within the larger story of my family’s love and with the additional, connecting anecdotes of how he was my first and best playmate in life; how, yes, he would sometimes tease me mercilessly (he was a big brother, after all), yet he included and created special roles for me in his endless array of creative and imaginative games throughout our growing up (oh, the stories I can tell!). I cherish seeing listeners’ faces when I spin and connect such anecdotes into a full story, too long for a blog post.

And: different from reading/writing –  that’s when and how the true power of storytelling is created.

When a story is told, the specific images and events within the story-context generate and connect with listeners’ individual memories and images – and we are embraced in that very time and space by the astonishing power of storytelling:

However each person has uniquely experienced it, in real-time we participate together in the universality of the shared story’s truth. It’s real, it’s often outright fun, it’s always profound.

It’s even better than buttered popcorn.

A few (of the many!) resources that can help you turn interesting anecdotes into meaningful stories:
Storytelling organizations, directories and professionals that you can connect with include:

Thanks for reading, and I’d welcome your comments – Pam

In loving memory of Mark Faro, February 25, 1950 – November 15, 2006.

Mark-n-Me

Me-n-Mark on one of our Phoenix dog-walks.