Rave at the Cave – Anecdote or Story?

Anecdote or story? What’s the difference? Every so often I come across a social media post by an aspiring writer who wants to write a book about the funny and/or humanly impossible experiences they’ve had in the course of their jobs/travels/crazy relationships. However, as entertaining as these situations may be, they do not a story make. They sound like a series of anecdotes – which probably couldn’t carry a whole book, unless it was a unique and well-written ‘Diary of a…’. Even the most zany of situations can come across as quite dull on the page with a you had to be there to appreciate it quality.

“The police raid was…wild and scary and clearly memorable – but is it a story?”

I was on the phone with my aunty Jane the other night and she was asking how submissions for the magazine were going,

            ‘You should write about that night at the Rave at the Cave, when it got raided,                   that would make a good story.’

My aunt is not a typical aunt (whatever that might be), and she introduced me to the London acid house scene in the late 1980s. It got me thinking. The police raid was a dramatic event, certainly an action-packed event, it was wild and scary and clearly memorable – but is it a story?

Anecdotes Don’t Do Deep Emotions

So would my potential Rave at the Cave tale work as a story or is it best kept as an anecdote? An anecdote is a retelling of an event; it can be funny or sad and will usually include the main elements of a story – character, action, and setting. Pubs and bars the world over are the spiritual home of the anecdote, which often start with, ‘You’ll never believe this…’, or ‘Guess what happened to me..,’ or ‘Wait till I tell you this…’.

An anecdote focuses on what happened, usually a specific or unusual incident. It deals with facts, but also perspective, i.e.‘ x happened and then y followed leading to z, it was terrible/brilliant/disgraceful,’ etc. However, an anecdote doesn’t explore the deeper significance of the event; there is no subtext. The punters in the pub are looking for jovial banter, not to be pulled into an emotional autopsy in search of meaning or epiphany. Some anecdotes can be developed into stories if the writer can tease out the story arc, the conflict and the stakes. But not all anecdotes can go the distance. Knowing when to keep the narrative to the realms of drunken repartee is an art.

What Makes a Powerful Story?

Stories, on the other hand, help us make sense of the world, they mirror back to us our secrets and desires; they dissect and explore the emotional crux of the action and why it is meaningful. According to Carl Jung, stories help us to tap into universal truths and social connection through the use of archetypes and the collective unconscious. A memorable story will grab us by the guts, it will resonate with something fluttering within us. We will feel an affinity with the protagonist or revulsion/anger at the antagonist. Most good stories involve a conflict, a series of obstacles that the main character has to overcome to achieve their goal. By doing this, change is achieved. Perhaps what they want has shifted, or a choice has unforeseen consequences – the outcome may even be tragic, but things will never be the same again. The main character can never go back to who they were before. Stories provide a safe space to explore our deepest fears and darkest thoughts through metaphor and symbolism; think of the witch or the forest in Hansel and Gretel, or the serial killer/psychopath, like Hannibal Lecter, in horror movies.

The Rave at the Cave Police Raid

So what did happen that night…?

Rumours had been going around for a while that undercover cops were infiltrating the raves, trying to buy drugs, and gain intel on the dealers. You could usually spot a fed – there was something about them that didn’t quite fit, something ever so slightly off. Maybe you could sense their discomfort, or that they weren’t on the same wavelength as everyone else. Or maybe because they weren’t shit-faced they were as wooden as a peg-legged granny doing the slosh. Despite the smiley t-shirt and bandana, you could see right through to their law-abiding core. And looking down at the shoes always confirmed it. You would never see a fed going mental mental radio rental.

The Rave at the Cave was one of the best underground warehouse parties in London, held in a greasy unit underneath a railway archway at Elephant & Castle. The venue was a working garage during the week and, for anyone who didn’t notice where they were, the flatbed lorry parked in the middle of the main dance room was a big rusty hint. This didn’t faze anyone, in fact, getting a spot on the lorry-come-stage imbued the lucky matey with a nimbus of acid-shiny kudos for the night. On the lorry you were cooler, brighter, sexier and had all the moves. The air was always thick and humid; saturated with spliff and poppers. The contact high alone would get you off your nut until Sunday teatime. Everyone was on the same trip and the energy sparked unrelenting all night long.

We hadn’t long arrived, and I’d just taken an ecstasy, an E. I was about to get on one to Break 4 Love by Raze when it all went tits up.

            ‘Nobody move, this is a police raid.’

There was a millisecond of confusion where I thought it was a joke or a mistake and the music would come back on and I could get back to waving my hands in the air like I just didn’t care. But it quickly became apparent that it was real. And serious. My aunty Jane’s mate had asked her to keep a couple of E’s in her purse for him. The police were going to be searching everyone and she really didn’t want to be caught carrying class A drugs. So she tossed her purse. But immediately she was worried that as she had her name and address written inside the purse in case she lost it, they would find it and arrest her. She’d also thrown away £40 and a precious black and white photo of her dad, looking handsome in his navy uniform.

The atmosphere had changed instantly, instead of Balearic beats, we were surrounded by menacing-looking police dogs snarling and having a go at anyone not dressed in navy blue. Two hundred officers had descended on the rave and were systematically processing everyone. When it came to my turn I said I’d already been searched. It was a lie, I just didn’t want to let them win. Everyone who had been searched had been sent to the opposite side of the room or outside, it was impossible that they would have searched me and left me in situ. But I held my ground with a female cop. My aunt intervened, and being older than everyone else, carried an air of authority.

            ‘If she says she’s been searched, then she’s been searched,’ she declared.

There was a bit of a to-do and I caused a minor scene but, miraculously, the officer of the law capitulated and I was sent to the searched side of the room. Later, I told my aunt that I hadn’t actually been searched.

            ‘Then why the fuck did you cause all that commotion?’

             ‘I don’t know.’

And I really didn’t.

So, what do you think – anecdote or story? is there an arc here?  Are the stakes high enough? Perhaps it would work better from a different point of view? Could this be developed into a story – or is it best kept as a you had to be there pissed-up pub yarn?

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