7 Tips for Using Personal Anecdotes in Your Stories

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Image by yogesh more from Pixabay

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and multiple award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

Find more information, after this post.

Readers ask me if I use my personal experiences in my novels. Yes! Here are 7 tips to remember in using your personal anecdotes in your stories.


1. Don’t include a personal anecdote only because it’s one of your darlings. 

You love the anecdote. It’s funny. You tell it at parties, and people love it. But if it doesn’t fit the character or the character’s pursuit, don’t tell it.

Image by Victoria_Watercolor from Pixabay

2. Don’t include a personal anecdote that points to and harms a real person. 

If you can’t change the facts so that no one would recognize a person other than yourself in the anecdote, don’t use it. Or get written permission from the people involved in the anecdote.

For one of my books, I realized that, even though the person the humorous anecdote portrayed was deceased, the person’s family or friends might recognize the person. It drove this point home for me, and I made significant changes. 

3. Don’t use a personal anecdote that so farfetched it’s unbelievable. 

Just because the anecdote really happened doesn’t make it believable to readers. It could turn readers off.

Image by Digital Photo and Design DigiPD.com from Pixabay

Dos (but keep the Don’ts in mind)

4. Do include personal anecdotes that help a character become real. 

  • ones that would actually happen to your character
  • ones that flesh out a character’s personality
  • ones that show a character’s struggle
  • ones that help build a relationship between characters

5. Do include personal anecdotes that create a believable story plot or subplot. 

If an event or series of events that happened to you caused you to learn a lesson, rewrite them to fit your character. You’ll not only have the event(s), but you’ll have your emotions, struggles, and growth to make a moving scene, chapter, or book.

6. Do include personal anecdotes that show how things are or work. 

If the anecdote shows what really goes on in a character’s profession, activity, hobby, sport, interest group, or an event they attend, it will give the reader an authentic picture.

Image by Nico Franz from Pixabay

7. Do Use personal anecdotes that add appropriate humor to a situation.

Much of what happens in our lives is humorous. If you’re writing a light story, you have fodder to make your readers smile or laugh. Even if you write thrillers, mysteries, suspense, or other genres, look for intense, harsh events in your story. After these incidents, readers need something to ease their heart rate. Call on a humorous anecdote to do the job. (If you watch cop shows watch for those humorous moments among the detectives the day after something heinous happens.) 

What tips do you have for using personal anecdotes in your stories?

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

A concise, detailed, step by step resource for all writers. — Jamie West, editor coordinator, Pelican Book Group

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American Christian Fiction Writers

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1 Comment

  1. Sally Jo Pitts

    Good suggestions, Zoe.

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