Reeling ‘Em In: Anecdotes Can Be Special
I recently read a feature article that shined a light on the difference between a great, memorable anecdotal lede and one that falls flat.
The article, written by my friend and former Bloomberg colleague Anthony Effinger, started by describing a favorite workout of a hedge fund manager. The guy likes to run along the seafloor off his home in Kona, Hawaii. In 15-foot-deep water. Carrying a boulder. He can make it about 30 yards (which is amazing) before he has to drop it and come up for air. If money is on the line, he can make it a bit longer.
What’s so special about this anecdote? It’s unexpected, to be sure. But, more to the point, it reveals a lot about the guy in a memorable fashion, one that I won’t soon forget. The fund manager puts in a ton of hard work. He doesn’t sprint—the equivalent of making risky bets in the finance world—and favors steady progress. He’s unorthodox—not only in his workout but with his hedges, which separates him from many of his competitors. And he thrives under pressure.
Details like these really make stories shine. They can be memorable, unforgettable. But they have to be relevant. Too often, I’ll read about someone picking at a salad, golfing on the weekend, or spending time with his family. So what? Lots of people do those things.
As writers—whether we’re penning something for popular publications or corporate clients—we always need to be looking for details that transcend trite observations. That’s what makes a story come to life. The next time I’m looking for the right description/picture/anecdote to tell the story, I’m going to hold it up to this example. I may not find something as compelling as a guy running underwater while carrying a boulder, but if it doesn’t reveal some part of my subject’s persona, I’m going to go back to the drawing board.