Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Anchors Away

Occasionally when I'm reading I find myself floating. It's not the relaxing power of the prose; the writer has forgotten to 'anchor' their writing and the characters have drifted off into space, a whirling mass of emotions and dialogue - rather as I imagine Saturn to be. Editors usually pick it up: the last time I can remember floating was in a Jane Green novel when the characters sat down for coffee then drifted off and after four pages of floating dialogue I was inwardly screeching "where are we?" All it needed was a few bits of coffee stirring, perhaps some slurping, or sugar being spilled on the table to keep the characters anchored into the narrative present.

Anchoring keeps your characters in the real world and helps make them believable. It adds detail and texture to the characters lives. It gives characters actions when there are pauses in speech:

'I was thinking of changing job.' Arabella neatly folded the beer mat into four, bent down to shove it under the wobbly table leg then resurfaced. 'A little bird told me you were leaving work.'

You don't have to keep repeating that they're in the pub, just scatter a few references here and there to gently remind the reader.

Another form of anchoring comes at the start of a new section. Back at the ranch...Later that afternoon...Over the next six weeks...The cottage the following morning was... My first editor said the information should always be in the first paragraph. I'd agree - as a reader I like to relax into the writing without having to think, where or when are we? Most writers add anchors automatically as they go along, but it's worth checking you're not letting your characters - and readers - drift away.

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