Anecdotes for personal essays

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness.

My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence. It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why! In just eight words, we get: scene-setting he is standing next to a car about to break in , the idea of crossing a boundary he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time , and a cliffhanger we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight? It's the details that really make this small experience come alive.

Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ. Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop.

Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking. Coat hangers: not just for crows' nests anymore! Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click.

They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability.


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By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family. Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person.

This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.

There's been an oil spill! The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control. This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.

Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example breaking into the van in Laredo is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people.

How to Write a Great Anecdote

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I have always loved riding in cars. After a long day in first grade, I used to fall asleep to the engine purring in my mother's Honda Odyssey, even though it was only a 5-minute drive home. As I grew, and graduated into the shotgun seat, it became natural and enjoyable to look out the window. Seeing my world passing by through that smudged glass, I would daydream what I could do with it. In elementary school, I already knew my career path: I was going to be Emperor of the World.

While I sat in the car and watched the miles pass by, I developed the plan for my empire. I reasoned that, for the world to run smoothly, it would have to look presentable. I would assign people, aptly named Fixer-Uppers, to fix everything that needed fixing. That old man down the street with chipping paint on his house would have a fresh coat in no time. The boy who accidentally tossed his Frisbee onto the roof of the school would get it back. The big pothole on Elm Street that my mother managed to hit every single day on the way to school would be filled-in.

It made perfect sense! All the people that didn't have a job could be Fixer-Uppers. I was like a ten-year-old FDR. Seven years down the road, I still take a second glance at the sidewalk cracks and think of my Fixer-Uppers, but now I'm doing so from the driver's seat. As much as I would enjoy it, I now accept that I won't become Emperor of the World, and that the Fixer-Uppers will have to remain in my car ride imaginings.

Or do they? I always pictured a Fixer-Upper as a smiling man in an orange T-Shirt. Maybe instead, a Fixer-Upper could be a tall girl with a deep love for Yankee Candles. Maybe it could be me. Bridget the Fixer-Upper will be slightly different than the imaginary one who paints houses and fetches Frisbees. I was lucky enough to discover what I am passionate about when I was a freshman in high school.

A self-admitted Phys. On my first day, I learned that it was for developmentally-disabled students. To be honest, I was really nervous. I hadn't had too much interaction with special needs students before, and wasn't sure how to handle myself around them. Long story short, I got hooked. Three years have passed helping out in APE and eventually becoming a teacher in the Applied Behavior Analysis summer program. I love working with the students and watching them progress. When senior year arrived, college meetings began, and my counselor asked me what I wanted to do for a career, I didn't say Emperor of the World.

Instead, I told him I wanted to become a board-certified behavior analyst. A BCBA helps develop learning plans for students with autism and other disabilities. Basically, I would get to do what I love for the rest of my life. He laughed and told me that it was a nice change that a seventeen-year-old knew so specifically what she wanted to do. I smiled, thanked him, and left. But it occurred to me that, while my desired occupation was decided, my true goal in life was still to become a Fixer-Upper.

I'll do one thing during the day, then spend my off-hours helping people where I can. Instead of flying like Sue, though, I'll opt for a nice performance automobile. My childhood self would appreciate that. Bridget takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but her essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of her essay. The essay is arranged chronologically. Bridget starts each paragraph with a clear signpost of where we are in time:.

I wanted to become a board-certified behavior analyst. What makes this essay fun to read is that Bridget takes a child's idea of a world made better through quasi-magical helpers and turns it into a metaphor for the author's future aspirations. It helps that the metaphor is a very clear one: people who work with students with disabilities are making the world better one abstract fix at a time, just like imaginary Fixer-Uppers would make the world better one concrete physical fix at a time. Every childhood Fixer-Upper ever.

Examples of Anecdotes

Ask your parents to explain the back row to you. This essay uses many techniques that make Bridget sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know her. Technique 1: humor. Notice Bridget's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks her younger self's grand ambitions this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other. Technique 2: invented terminology. The second technique is the way Bridget coins her own terms, carrying them through the whole essay.

It would be easy enough to simply describe the people she imagined in childhood as helpers or assistants, and to simply say that as a child she wanted to rule the world. Instead, she invents the capitalized and thus official-sounding titles "Fixer-Upper" and "Emperor of the World," making these childish conceits at once charming and iconic.

What's also key is that the titles feed into the central metaphor of the essay, which keeps them from sounding like strange quirks that don't go anywhere. Technique 3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences.

However, at key moments, Bridget emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences. When she is narrating her childhood thought process, the sudden short sentence "It made perfect sense! Similarly, when the essay turns from her childhood imagination to her present-day aspirations, the turn is marked with "Or do they?

The first time when the comparison between magical fixer-upper's and the future disability specialist is made is when Bridget turns her metaphor onto herself.

The essay emphasizes the importance of the moment through repetition two sentences structured similarly, both starting with the word "maybe" and the use of a very short sentence: "Maybe it could be me. The last key moment that gets the small-sentence treatment is the emotional crux of the essay. As we watch Bridget go from nervously trying to help disabled students to falling in love with this specialty field, she undercuts the potential sappiness of the moment by relying on changed-up sentence length and slang: "Long story short, I got hooked.

The best essays convey emotions just as clearly as this image. Explain the car connection better. The essay begins and ends with Bridget's enjoying a car ride, but this doesn't seem to be related either to the Fixer-Upper idea or to her passion for working with special-needs students. It would be great to either connect this into the essay more, or to take it out altogether and create more space for something else. Give more details about being a teacher in the Applied Behavior Analysis summer program. It makes perfect sense that Bridget doesn't want to put her students on display.

Statement or Anecdote: What’s the difference?

It would take the focus off of her and possibly read as offensive or condescending. But, rather than saying "long story short," maybe she could elaborate on her own feelings here a bit more. What is it about this kind of teaching that she loves? What is she hoping to bring to the lives of her future clients?

Before You Read

How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively. Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it. Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay. When you figure out how all the cogs fit together, you'll be able to build your own All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life.

It can either be very dramatic did you survive a plane crash? Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world. Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline.

My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due. Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? To learn how to craft the hook for your college essay and create an opening that leaves your readers wanting more, read on for our top college essay-opening hooks. While some students might know their topic right off the bat, others will need more time to reflect. Some students get caught up in trying to detail their most impressive achievements or are tempted to exaggerate when they describe the adversity they have faced, but these pressures are actually unwarranted.

Instead of writing about something extreme, many students have had success writing about more mundane topics. Think again. Ultimately, the best essays are the ones that reflect an interesting, funny, insightful, or inspiring aspect of your personality in a way that engages the audience. When it comes to college essays, first impressions are everything. At the very least, you should have a detailed outline of your essay before writing your hook.

One strong way to get your essay moving and to draw your reader in is to open in the middle of an important scene, diving in with descriptive details and dialogue. Make the reader feel like he or she is watching a movie from your life and has just tuned in at a critical scene. Then, once you close the scene, go back and explain its significance or give the reader the background necessary to fully understand its relevance.

I jumped back as the dog lunged for my leg, teeth bared and snarling.

I pushed the thoughts away and grasped the leash, pulling it tightly to my side as Smokey, surprised by my sudden confidence, fell into stride beside me. Then, much like the scene setting above, you can go back and describe its relevance later in the essay. When Smokey arrived for his first day of obedience training, he was scared of leashes, cats, and pick up trucks. Even the slightest loud noise would cause him to bolt, scampering for the closest hiding spot. He was skittish and wild-eyed, and his owner Maria was at the end of her rope.

But Maria had nothing to worry about. I was ready for Smokey. On the day that I told my mother I wanted to start my own canine obedience school, she smiled and muttered something beneath her breath about the irony of my youthful disobedience and my newfound passion for enforcing rules.

This is the question I faced on my very first day as a dog trainer. Writing a strong hook is the best way to guarantee that your college essay will be reviewed in its entirety and will be an engaging and exciting read for its audience.

Examples of Anecdotes

Taking the time to craft a well-founded and intriguing hook is a smart investment for any college applicant. For more about the college essay, check out these important CollegeVine posts:. Get Essay Help. Set the Scene One strong way to get your essay moving and to draw your reader in is to open in the middle of an important scene, diving in with descriptive details and dialogue.

Example: I jumped back as the dog lunged for my leg, teeth bared and snarling.

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