Alice’s Restaurant

May 12, 2007

Anchors – Part II

Filed under: Writing Technique — aliceaudrey @ 11:36 pm

Each of the examples in the previous post comes from the beginning of their respective books.

Notice that in Exhibit 1 we not only visualize the tarmac of a parking lot, we see it as cold and slushy from a warm winter or early spring day.  We see high-end cars, and some sort of sports-oriented type building even though she didn’t specifically tell us to fill the parking lot or mention brick.

When we get into the building, we are going to throw in all sorts of sports-oriented details in our minds without being told to do so.  Simply having been told we are in Chicago means few of us will add red-rock sandstone or a Yule log in our minds. 

I seriously doubt anyone here is going to imagine the smell of sweaty sox while reading Exhibit 2.  Does anyone beside me see ladies in elegant gowns and gentlemen of an alpha persuasion leaning toward one another and whispering?  In all the rest of the scene my mind will provide a slight chill from cold seeping through the stones of a grand old building against the warmth of fireplaces.  If you’ve read any of the other Rothgar books, you’ll have an even stronger vision of the setting and the people in it while reading this one.

Exhibit 3 actually went on a bit long for my tastes, but by the time we get to three people huddled against the wind, we know we are in that strange combination of time-warn land and modern American society that is the Navajo reservation.  What’s more, the description dumped us right into the people who would be of significance to this story – two murder victims and a witness.  When we get to the blood, we see it against the red of the stone even though the point of view character is blind.

You’ll noticed I included a lot more of Exhibit 4 than of any of the others.  That’s because it’s Science Fiction.  In Science Fiction the challenge to paint a vivid image is stronger because the reader can’t necessarily rule out things like sweaty sox, red sandstone, or the yule log just because there is a red sun or Darkovan clothing.  Mind you, this example could have used a few more anchors earlier on.  But, considering the author has to lay out not only what the physical world is like, but also cultural aspects while still providing a conflict quickly, it’s not surprising the anchors are spread out a bit more.

In case anyone is still wondering what an anchor is, let’s go through Exhibit 4 in more detail.

In the first sentence we learn the character we are going to pay closest attention to in the scene is female, a messenger though maybe or maybe not actually carrying a message at the time, dressed locally, and walking through an older neighborhood at night.  In the second sentence we learn that she will be our Point of View character – when she “reminded herself” of a cultural phenomenon.  We now have part of who, and part of where.

The second paragraph gives us a little more of the where, mentioning the marketplace.

The third paragraph gives us a lot more of the where, pinning a point in the universe, while at the same time indicating this is from the class of Science Fiction occasionally called a Space Opera.  We can expect faster than light travel because there is an empire and space workers.  We know she’s walking through red sunlight, and that there may be high technology, but with a vendors who close shutters and scrape kettles, we aren’t talking Star Trek here.  Particularly telling is that a metal lock should stand out as a sign of prosperity.  You can be sure there aren’t a lot of forcefield around.

What kind of details would I add?  How about some indication of what a Darkovan woman’s clothing looks like?  No doubt it was mentioned in a previous Darkover book, but I haven’t read any of them, so I don’t carry the imagery from them to this one.  The crunch or clatter of whatever she’s walking on would help, and I’d love to have a name for her.  But even without those details, the world created here is vivid enough to interest me, which is what Anchors do.

As to where each of these examples comes from, check it out:
Exhibit 1 is page 1 of This Heart of Mine by Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Exhibit 2 is page 1 of A Most Unsuitable Man by Jo Beverley
Exhibit 3 is page 1 of Listening Woman by Tony Hillerman
Exhibit 4 is  from page 5 of City of Sorcery by marion Zimmer Bradley



  1. Very good examples, Alice. It is difficult to set up a scene without overloading it with too much narrative. That’s what I have to work on. Creating a picture in just a few words.


    Comment by Laurie — May 13, 2007 @ 1:04 pm

  2. Maybe we should hold a details workshop in The Workshop on FF?


    Comment by aliceaudrey — May 13, 2007 @ 4:34 pm

  3. That would be a great idea Alice. I love your examples. Made me want to run out and get A Most Unsuitable Man.

    Comment by Bev — May 13, 2007 @ 4:55 pm

  4. Now, to translate what you’re telling me to my own stuff.

    One question: In Exhibit 3, what blood?

    Comment by Donna — May 18, 2007 @ 8:44 am

  5. In the course of the scene set up by Exhibit 3, a blind medicine woman tries to diagnose the health problems of an old man. She walks away from the old man and her assistant in order to feel out a solution. When she returns, both of them have been murdered. It sets up the mystery for the rest of the book.


    Comment by aliceaudrey — May 18, 2007 @ 9:30 am

  6. Now I want to read the book. 🙂

    Comment by sashacat — May 18, 2007 @ 9:47 am

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