I once heard about an author who wrote to Rudyard Kipling and said, “I’ve heard you receive payment of $5 per word for your writing. Enclosed is a five dollar bill. Send me a word.” Kipling sent back a sheet of paper that said, “Thanks.” Sometime later Kipling received another letter from the gentleman and a check for $100. The letter said, “I sold the story of your one-word reply to a magazine for $200. The enclosed check is your half.”
This type of story, called an anecdote, can be found in magazines, newspapers, and even in popular series such as Chicken Soup for the Soul. Online Dictionary.com defines the anecdote as: “A short account of an interesting or humorous incident.” A search on Google.com results in 5,710,000 hits for anecdotes, and Reader’s Digest Magazine has long known that their humor departments—All in a Day’s Work, Humor in Uniform, and Life in These United States—almost always finish one, two, and three in popularity.
Anyone can learn to write an anecdote if they know how to mine their own lives for the moment of humor or poignancy that will tickle the funny bone or touch the hearts of others. Ideas come from personal stories, those favorite tales we tell about our families, friends, workplace, vacations, and so on. Think about your childhood, school years, or tales your family tells about long-dead relatives. Perhaps these stories deserve to be heard by a bigger audience.
When you write your anecdote, begin by thinking about the ending. Does your story have a punch line? Every anecdote needs a powerful ending, something that will either make your audience laugh or allow them to feel the emotion of the moment. Once you have the end, find the beginning. Keep the anecdote short and on track. Tangents, even funny ones, will detract from your ending.
Most anecdotes run 300 words or less and markets often pay well for them. Reader’s Digest gives the following information on their website: “Everyone's got a funny story. What's yours? Believe it or not, we actually pay our readers to make us chuckle. Just send us your hilarious story, and if we publish it in Reader's Digest, you'll be laughing all the way to the bank. Here's how it works: We pay $300 for true, never-before-published stories we print in Life in These United States, All in a Day's Work, Humor in Uniform or Virtual Hilarity.” A simple online form allows readers to submit stories electronically.
So, think about your life stories. Is there something there that you might be able to write into an anecdote? As you read newspapers and magazines this week, pay attention to the different kinds of anecdotes they use, then write one to submit. Maybe you’ll find yourself $300 richer when they buy your little slice-of-life.