Episode 43: How to Write an Anecdote and Tell Awesome Stories

Alice Boll
Alice Boll

Show Notes

This episode shares tips for writing an anecdote and telling awesome stories. 


Have you ever rewrote your journaling for a layout?

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ScrapHappier Podcast episode 43 How to Write an anecdote and tell awesome stories. Alice Boll is holding a pair of scissors. There is also a cartoon image of two women, one is whispering to the other and the second looks surprised.


Welcome to the Scrap Happier podcast, where we share quick tips, tricks, and techniques to help you create scrapbooks you love, and be happier while doing it. I’m your host Alice Boll.

I’m so glad that you’ve joined me today. We’re going to talk about something that I really enjoy. Okay. Well, I don’t actually enjoy it, but I enjoy the results when I do it right. Of course, I’m talking about journaling, and lately I’ve been making a lot of scrapbook pages as I’m participating in one of our LOAD, layout a day, challenges in the Scrap Happy community. But when I’m looking back at them, they don’t have very good journaling. I’ve been off my game, not paying attention. Honestly, I’ve been having too much fun playing with creative techniques. Which is great, but I haven’t been paying attention to the stories that I really want to tell.

Here’s an example of a page I made. It’s called On the River. My goal for this page, which is scrapbook something about my hometown. The journaling reads: “Whitecourt has been known as, ‘where the rivers meet,’ for many years. We’ve spent a lot of time on the McLeod River, tubing and kayaking, or in the canoe. It’s a wonderful way to spend the day.”

On the page I’ve added a photo of us taken on the river on kayaks. It’s fun, it’s a bright page, it’s beautiful, but it really doesn’t tell me very much. What’s missing, and how could I make that better? My favorite layouts are the pages where I tell a story, like an anecdote. Actually, exactly like an anecdote. An anecdote is a short story about something that happened to you or to someone you know, or someone that you know of. An anecdote gives a personal perspective. It illustrates a point. It makes people think of something, or makes them laugh. So, if I want to tell better stories on my pages, I need to learn how to write a good anecdote.

Depending on the story that you’re trying to tell, your anecdote can have a certain tone. Your anecdote can be joyful. It can be serious. It can be humorous, or it can be sad. One of the first tips when you’re writing an anecdote is to zoom in on the action. Think about how you can show what happened, what actions took place, what was being said.

For tip number two, you’re going to stick to the tone setting details. Remember, sometimes less really is more. You want to create an opening to the real emotions of the moment. How can I show my reaction? What did I say, and what did I do?

Tip number three is to ruthlessly cut out your backstory. I know, I know. The details, they’re so important, right? But you really have to think about how every good story has editing. If you got in a fender bender on your way to a party, you wouldn’t tell the police officer how you got up in the morning and then you brushed your teeth and then you had breakfast and then you went to the gym. Those details just aren’t important. When we’re telling an anecdote, we really need to focus on the story that we want to tell. That doesn’t mean you don’t get to describe any details. What is the most important detail that you do need to describe? These details give your story verisimilitude. That’s a fancy word, and it just means the appearance of being true or real.

Now I’ll read journaling from a page called Surprise Time. It’s a layout I made about a birthday present. This was a special birthday. My present was wrapped in a gigantic box. What could it be? Inside was a smaller box, inside that box was another box. When I finally made it to the smallest box, I found a watch. I was so excited to be so grown up with my own watch. Well, I was nine years old. The funny thing about that is that for years I thought that this happened on my tenth birthday. When I found these photos, I was counting the candles over and over again. It really was the ninth birthday. The dates on the back of the photos agree.

Looking at this story from this layout reminds me of a few things. I definitely have a ways to go when it comes to writing a good anecdote. But I really appreciate how I jumped right into this layout with the action. I was opening the box within the box within the box, but I could have created even more drama leading up to the finding of that teeny tiny watch inside the great big box. See how I described that now?

With the guidelines that I know now about writing an anecdote, I want to go back to that layout On the River and rewrite some journaling so that I can tell a good story about that day. This time was going to be different. This time I was not going to be paddling and paddling like crazy just to keep up. Here’s the problem. Jonas and I were in a canoe. Everyone else had kayaks. A simple flick of the wrist and their paddles send them gliding effortlessly across the water, while we were digging our paddles into the water desperately trying to keep up, as they continued to claim, “We aren’t even paddling.” This time, we were tying our boats together and floating down the river. This journaling makes me feel so much better about this layout. I’ve zoomed in on the action. I showed what happened, I showed what actions took place, and I talked about what was being said. I used tone-setting details.

My opening line that says, “This time it was going to be different,” already tells you that there was tension from a previous experience. I was ruthless at cutting out the backstory. There were so many more details about being left behind that could have been repeated. But by trimming it all down and sticking right to the story, it makes it so much better and so much funnier. I made sure I wrapped up my story with a good resolution point.

One of the key things we need to think of when we’re writing an anecdote, is to make sure that we’re telling a story that we’d actually want to listen to ourselves. Now that I’ve written some better journaling for this layout, I’m going to type it up, I’m going to put it onto a tag, and I’m going to slip it in behind my photo in a little pocket.

I mentioned that I was making all of these layouts because I’m participating in a LOAD challenge right now. Let me tell you a little bit about LOAD, and tell you how you can get a free trial of a LOAD mini challenge.

First of all, LOAD stands for layout a day. It’s a challenge that we run three times a year in the Scrap Happy membership. We open up the February and May challenges for scrapbookers to come and join us and see what this challenge is all about. It is a great way to make some scrapbook pages, and to build a daily creative habit. We always have a theme for the month and it gives us a chance to explore the theme, have a little bit of fun with that, and use that to inspire us in two ways every single day. We have a story prompt and a technique prompt. You can choose to use the story prompt, the technique prompt, both of the prompts, or none of the prompts. The goal of LOAD is to scrapbook a layout a day. You don’t have to use the prompts unless they work for you.

For example, this month we’re doing a LOAD inspired by The Golden Girls, and today’s prompt is all about celebrity cameos. There were so many famous people that made appearances on The Golden Girls. It was so cool to see all of the people that visited them. So, for our story prompt today, we’re scrapbooking about a celebrity story. Either someone you’ve met or have admired, and then our technique prompt is to use stars. For my layout, I couldn’t think of a better person to feature then Stacy Julian.

Stacy Julian has been an inspiration to me and my scrapbooking since my early days. Through simple scrapbooks she taught me skills I continue to use to this day. Stacey’s consistent messaging has helped me focus on telling stories I love, seeing the big picture, and maybe one day I’ll finally have the photo freedom I’ve learned is possible.

In 2020, when I took a chance on hosting a brand new event, the Scrap Smarter Experience, Stacy was my pie in the sky dream speaker. Imagine my surprise when she said yes. Without reservation, taking a big chance on me. Since then, whenever we talk or she sees me in an event, she says my name with a smile. Now, Stacy is both an inspiration and a friend. To put this layout together, I used a beautiful picture of Stacy. I added a background that had some mixed media stars, and a little bit of washi tape, doilies, and some stickers.

Every summer, well, North American summer that is, we host a mini LOAD. It’s a one week mini version of a layout a day challenge. That’s a really good way to see if LOAD is something that you might enjoy. However, I also get asked all the time, “Alice, is there a way for us to test LOAD and see what it’s like, see if it would work for us?” And the good news is, yes. We have finally made that available.

For LOAD 7/20, in July of 2020, our theme was Scrap the Rainbow. We used inspiration from the spectrum of the rainbow to inspire our scrapbook pages. Now you can scrap the rainbow whenever it is convenient for you. Come and take our free trial. Take the 7/20 Scrap the Rainbow challenge. The biggest difference between this LOAD free trial is that you won’t have the benefit of having a whole group of people go through the challenge together. Honestly, that is part of the magic that makes LOAD such a great event. But this theme was just too good not to be able to share it.

To get your LOAD 7/20 Scrap the Rainbow free trial, go to scraphappy.org/trial. Don’t worry. It’s not one of those annoying things where you have to put in your credit card information and then try to cancel it out later. It’s literally a free trial. You can be up in two minutes or less, and then you can be taking the LOAD 7/20 mini challenge, Scrap the Rainbow. Sign up at scraphappy.org/trial.

You’ll find links to everything in the show notes of this episode. It’s easy to click over and access everything. I hope you enjoyed this episode of the Scrap Happier podcast. Don’t forget, if you create a layout using the prompt, you can tag us at #scraphappierpodcast. We hope you find today’s tips helpful, and that you’ll be inspired to scrapbook your stories. Happy scrapping.

Ruthlessly cut out the backstory. Ruthlessly edit it. Be ruthless.


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