Dropping Anchor – Details That Support Your Story

“Lizzie sat in her Algebra II class, trying to pay attention to what her teacher was saying. But she could see Brad sitting right there. She tapped her pencil. Focus, focus, focus. She saw Monica waving to her out of the corner of her eye. Monica mimicked writing in midair with her empty hand. Lizzie sighed, reached into her pencil bag, and tossed Monica a pencil.”

Ok, so that’s a quick little moment that could appear in a manuscript. In these 66 words, we have three characters who we likely place in high school (Algebra II) and we have an idea that we’re going to explore some relationships between the three people introduced.

But what this scene lacks is anchors: specific details that more accurately place you, the reader, in the scene that I’m starting to unfold. Weaving in those details, yes, at the expense of beloved brevity, gives your reader so much more about the scene. Let’s see how.

I told you nothing about the classroom. You could have easily assumed a large urban high school with at least thirty kids sitting in rows of desks, or maybe a small private school with fifteen kids in a u-shape. Even a lecture hall with stadium seating and a hundred kids. Does it matter? Well, it can if the action of the scene is going to reveal information to you about the characters (and it should!).

I told you nothing about where anyone is sitting. How does it change your opinion of Lizzie if Monica is sitting at the desk next to Lizzie… but Lizzie tosses the pencil to her anyway? Is Lizzie maybe making Monica pay a little bit for being forgetful? What if Lizzie is sitting across from Monica in the u-shape, so she had to toss it all the way across the room to get it to her. Is Lizzie just doing what she can to get a friend a pencil? In both instances perhaps “Monica fumbled to catch the pencil” starts off our next sentence, but what’s our impression of Lizzie (or Monica)?

Let’s raise the stakes even higher. What if in my writer’s mind, Monica is two rows away from Lizzie – and the person sitting between them is Brad. That’s possible, because given my explanation you have no idea where anybody is. Now Lizzie is tossing the pencil to avoid contact with Brad. But why? This could have hooked you in as a reader, made you curious about their relationships, but instead it’s an opportunity lost.

It’s important to find the perfect word, or to leave out unimportant details. Does it add richness to know that the pencil was a #2 Ticonderoga vs. a blue mechanical pencil? Unlikely, unless I have a theme about using natural elements, or Lizzie’s favorite color is blue. We do need to be on the lookout for extraneous information that can bog down a story and slow the pacing. But when the writer leaves some information out – the setup of the room, the placement and subsequent movement of the characters – the reader is missing out. And as a writer who wants to bring you into my story and have you get all cozy and comfortable, so am I.

Daily Word Goals

It would be an understatement to say that I’m a goal oriented person. I’m super-driven to get my to do list completed. I find great satisfaction at ticking things off the list. This is why I am now on my second Fit Bit.


I’ve just finished On Writing by Stephen King, and setting strict writing goals resonated with me. He does a daily 2000 – he recommended that those just getting started might consider a daily 1000. We talked about this in my writing class, and my teacher recommended a daily 250 – something really achievable that mirrors roughly a page of content per day. I’m splitting the difference (not mathematically accurate, but still) by shooting for 450 (with the idea that I’d really like to go over every day).


A recent discovery on Scrivener has completely appealed to my checklist loving personality. Under the Project Menu you will find “Project Targets” – complete with a bulls-eye icon. My eyes immediately popped open a little bit wider with the possible excitement.

Project Targets did not disappoint. I can set an overall target for my manuscript, a Middle Grade novel. 35k is the average, so that’s my first draft goal. It compiles words in the Manuscript section only – so my notes aren’t counting towards my Word count, but my actual text is.

But as far as daily goals go the dream discovery was session target. Each morning I click “Reset” and then away I go.

I can see exactly where I am both in my overall manuscript and in my daily goal, and an awesome color bar gives me an immediate visual.


Project Targets pop-up box in Scrivener

Do you set a daily writing goal? How do you motivate yourself to meet it?

Lose Those Dialogue Tags

Within 24 hours, I’ve heard advice from two published children’s books authors that removing dialogue tags is a best practice in your writing/editing.  “Really?” she asked. “’Tis true,” I replied.

Ana Crespo’s advice was personal – she was reading a picture book manuscript I wrote and said I had an opportunity to trim by cutting a lot of my tags. In fact, she said in a lot of the picture book industry there’s a drive to cut them altogether: let the nature of the statements and the illustrations clarify who is saying what.

Denise Vega’s advice can be found online – it’s #8 on this video. She talks about cutting tags and, when needed, replacing them with the ‘invisible’ tags (said, reply, and ask). Definitely check it out for the other 9 tips she offers.

I will say that the prevalence of dialogue tags in writing has led to my children using them in their speaking. My son will say (these quotes are in the right place) “It’s time to go, he said.” So we’ll gain tighter narratives, and we’ll lose a little adorableness. Luckily there’s no shortage of cute things that kids will say!

How often are you dialogue-tagging your writing? Do you have dialogue tags that need to be cut or given a cloak of invisibility?