"I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means"

Inigo Montoya's words to Vizzini drive home Munro's point. The story we think we are telling is often not the whole story, and the whole story and its meaning are what every writer must aspire to discover. Anecdotes spice up conversation, help to drive home a point, and, often, comprise good jokes. However, they do not make for good reading, because they are almost always just the visible piece of the iceberg. Writers must dive in, daring to tread the icy waters to find the whole picture. Often, when the whole story is clear, the anecdote takes on a drastically different meaning, and we see that it did not mean what we thought it meant. Writers who face the unknown to find the story at which the anecdote merely hints, must be willing to brave truths that would be easier to let lie. I've found that the whole story may not be as pretty or as humorous as the anecdote. A funny anecdote may hide torturous truths.

A friend told an anecdote recently that he finds amusing. He used it to reveal his own willful and rebellious attitudes as a boy. However, as he was telling it, I left the room, because I know the whole story, and it's anything but funny. The real story is one of pain and abuse that he cannot see or acknowledge, because it was his everyday life. He knew nothing else, had no other experience of childhood to compare with. I can step back and be objective.

That's where the writer must go. Ask the leading questions, probe the responses, find the truth, the real story of the anecdote. Make sure the story you tell goes beyond the surface. You might find yourself saying something like Inigo, "I do not think it means what you think it means."

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