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Storytelling Tip: Where to Find Anecdotes

Sometimes the hardest part of how to create a story is being able to find the story starters. These anecdotes (and the little brother called the “float”) may at first seem hard to come by. Let me suggest to you a few things that you might use to find the bits and pieces of stories in your life.

Old photos are usually the first place that storytellers turn to when needing to get a story starter. This is true in both business and personal settings. Find a box of old photos that may be hidden away in your closet at your home or that of family members. If the idea of having a box of photos is too old-fashioned for your family, maybe you have hundreds of photos hidden on a computer hard drive? Look around the offices of your company. What photos are on walls of your business or hanging in the cubicles?

Videos or Films
While it seems that videos are now everywhere, there was a time when films were a much rarer thing in families and companies. To create and view these films required specialized equipment. Do you have a box of old films lying around? Even if you no longer have the equipment to view them, it is inexpensive now to have these converted to files that can be watched on your computer. You can save your visual history and discover new stories all with one inexpensive process.

Look through old newsletters and publications. See what big stories or small asides capture your attention. Was there an unusual event or happening once upon a time? Was there a yearly tradition that was once practiced but now seems to have fallen away? Maybe you will be surprised to discover something that you thought was a new experience has actually been going on for a long time.

At first, this newsletter idea may seem like a suggestion only for business stories. However, was or is the “holiday letter” a tradition in your family? Can you find a family member who has held on to every holiday letter ever written? I know of one Arizona storyteller who created an entire 15-minute funny story based upon one line in a family “Christmas Letter” that she wrote many years ago.

Shared Meals
As you teach yourself to seek out and pay attention to the anecdotes about you, you may be surprised at how easy it can be to get others to share their stories. People may get tongue-tied and thought-blocked when you sit them down to have a tell-me-your-stories interview. However, use this storyteller’s storytelling tip: have meals together where you casually ask the other person, “Do you remember fill-in-the-blank?” For example, try not to corner Grandma with an audio recorder at an empty table. Instead, casually ask over a lunch, “Do you remember how you first met Grandpa?” If that question does not work, then casually drop in another one as you eat together. This tactic works for everyone from children to grandparents to executives. Feel free to have your recorder running at the table as they may tell you some unique anecdote that allows you to create a good story.

Remember to be ethical when you are gathering anecdotes. Do not use other people’s anecdotes without their permission. Do not record another person using audio or video without his or her permission.


Sean Buvala is the director of He is the author of "How to Create a Story" available from Small-Tooth-Dog Publishing LLC. 

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Tags: anecdotes, buvala, coaching, crafting, sean, storytelling, tips


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