on Writers Helping Writers:
One of the issues I come across often in my work as a fiction editor is anecdotal writing. I encounter it in scenes, in chapters—and sometimes as the plotline of an entire novel. It’s one of those things where, when you read it, you can tell there’s something wrong, but you can’t put your finger on what it is.
An anecdote is a self-contained story, something you might tell a friend. There is a beginning, a middle, and an end: I went to the grocery store. This man had a meltdown over the price of coffee and started throwing things. I ran out before I got hit.
If you’re writing a non-fiction piece on anger management, the above anecdote, expanded with details, might be a good idea. An anecdote in non-fiction can bring a concept to life by showing its practical application.
If, however, you are writing fiction, anecdotes are a death knell. Basically what you’re doing is giving the reader slices of your character’s life—this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.
There are two main reasons why this is a bad idea.