Donna Everhart

The Short Of Why? What?

Once again, I’ve come up with another writing analogy.  Ready?  Writing is like playing football –  it has lots of rules.  Sometimes I’m astounded how I’m just flipping about the internet, bouncing from one site to the next, happily reading, and fwop!  Some writing rule is shared and it’s new to me.  Luckily, whether it’s karma, common sense, or just dumb luck, after reading the latest one, I was able to swipe my forehead and let out a big fat “phew!”   I’ve somehow stumbled into the right direction – again!

This latest had to do with anecdote versus story.  It came from an online magazine and the editor explained the difference between the two.  Turns out this is one of the top reasons for them to reject a story. She said if they add a note, it will be something like, “Anecdote, not story.”  Based on that fact, I had to know more and so, I continued reading.  (My first thought is always whether I’m doing what they don’t want…and of course if I am, then I want to stop.)

I’m glad to say, I’m not the only one ignorant to this rejection qualifier.  The editor said many writers don’t know the difference, and she didn’t either when she applied to complete her MFA.  She said it took her three years to nail it down.

Here’s an example:

No plotSam became depressed and wouldn’t leave the house.

Plot:  Sam became depressed and wouldn’t leave the house after his father died.

It’s about cause and effect.  This happens, which makes this happen, and then that happens, and on and on.  A natural progression.  When writing a story, you want to make sure stuff happens in reaction to an event.  What made this stand out for me was the post I did March 26th, (What’s Your Secret).  In some roundabout way, this was a similar point to what’s being made here.  I mentioned that events should come about “organically.”  And that’s in the same vein of thinking.  And to expand on that (again, I know), you don’t want your characters just acting out for no reason.  They should be doing whatever it is they’re doing for a reason.  Cause and effect.

As a basic description, cause is why something happens, and effect is what happens.  In my example, what happens?  Sam becomes depressed and won’t leave the house.  Why?  Because his father died.  The plot of the story lies behind their relationship, what made Sam fall into that state, etc.

Here’s another:

No plot:  Lisa is selling her house and valuables.

Plot:  Lisa is selling her house and valuables to pay off her bookie.

Another what and why, and the story lies behind why would a nice girl like Lisa be doing business with a bookie?  (Hmmm, could be a good story there.)

From online, the definition of anecdote is as follows:  “An anecdote is defined as a short and interesting story or an amusing event often proposed to support or demonstrate some point and make readers and listeners laugh.”

The first thing that comes to mind are the stories used when speaking in public.  Someone will get up and tell about their personal experience in order to support whatever is being discussed in the forum or meeting.  Yes, they are like stories too, but there is no expectation of a cause and effect.  No why or what.  It’s more about sharing an experience, or some piece of knowledge.  I always think about AA meetings (not that I’ve been to one) but the ones I’ve watched on TV and how folks in these meetings stand up and share a story of how they became alcoholics, and in some ways this can be confusing.  Most of them did so for a reason – hence cause and effect, right?  Yes – and no.  We don’t expect a lengthy, plot driven reason. The point of anecdote is short, to the point, and make the reader/listener laugh or think about the topic more deeply.

And so…, with that thought, tell me, are you comfortable with the “why’s” and “what’s'” of your story?



12 thoughts on “The Short Of Why? What?”

  1. Well, okay, I’ll agree. But I think that the “event” happening in a story can be so subtle that it can be overlooked, even by smug editors. And often, they event is hardly the point. It might be a better read for characterization or word choice or awesome sentences or tone or all sorts of other building blocks, and only using a story as a scaffold. But I’m an iconoclast.

    1. Yes, I can see that point – because to me, when I read a good book, I’m usually more entranced and mesmerized by the structure of the words versus the fact someone did something crazy – like chewed a man’s ear off. I want to know what makes that person do that, and how the author tells that part of the story.

      Be an iconoclast, stick to your way because that is what will make you stand out and you have the publications that prove not everyone wants cookie cutter. Btw, I read your short story… Velvet Elvis. I loved it!

  2. The why’s and what’s of my story are MY story. I got whys and whats coming out my arse. Now that’s a story.
    Hey Paul, I also read Velvet Elvis. I loved it too.

    1. I think I picked it b/c of the title…(you have a big selection to choose from, so I”m working my way through…) but either way, it was a hoot the way you described where the artist was set up – by the nice, aromatic toilets. I really enjoyed it.

      1. No need for that envy… it remains to be seen if anything I’ve written results in more than years of effort and a worn out laptop.

      2. My comment sounds like I have had two bad marriages. Actually I’ve had one and it`s good. I was referring to the failed books 🙁

    1. 🙂 Makes me think of when I was a kid, and I did something, and my mother’s typical response? “What?!?!? Why?!?!?!” As if I had to have a reason. My standard answer was…”because.” (I could)

  3. The anecdotes I gather as I research my novels become the basis for story lines, scenes and overarching themes, but I find it challenging in some cases to make them more than “bits of business.” Appreciated this coaching session!

    1. Hi,
      I really struggled to separate these out when I first started to write the post, so I’m glad it was helpful. I understand what you mean…as I tend to have this habit of going off in what I call a sidebar story within my main story. Sometimes, in my mind, I’m thinking this particular piece will explain my characters personalities better. But, if it didn’t move the story forward and sort of spun out excluding that natural progression, it’s like an anecdotal chapter. I.e. what was the point – or the why? I can think of a couple of specific chapters at this very moment that might end up being cut for this very reason. Darn it.

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