Anchors a way: grounding a story in images and music

The writing of a book is a circuitous journey that tends to take the scenic route (a la Moses through the dry land) and almost never ends up at the destination envisioned at the outset. Creatively, it's healthy to let the characters jump the turnstile, set off plot bombs, allow the debris to settle where it will. But there has to be some connection, I think, to the original vision. On the most pragmatic level, you can't have a character start out with blue eyes and end up with green, but beyond the basic continuity issues, there's a vibe that needs to be consistent from beginning to end.

By the time I finish a manuscript, whether it's fiction or a memoir I'm ghosting, my office is a clutter of images, artifacts, sounds, even smells that anchor me to my original vision. These sensory bookmarks aren't meant to be taken too literally. The anchor is supposed to tether the story to a specific place in my head, not drag it down to drown. It's not a shackle; I can change it if I want to, but I want that change to be a conscious decision, not mind-drift.

I rarely have a photograph of a person who represents a character in my head, but in the book I'm working on now, the main character is embodied by the image of Clara Bow above. Another character is anchored by this plaster Venus de Willendorf I picked out of the bargain bin at a little shop in Switzerland. I've been eating tangelos at my desk and keeping the peels close by for their particular scent. Cheerios on the outside of my windowsill keep a steady population of birds close enough for easy listening.

I wanted to create a very specific sense of place in this book -- the city of Houston as I have come to truly love it lately. Some days that requires a drive downtown, but most of the time, all I have to do is listen to "Tighten Up" by Archie Bell and the Drells. It's a little bit funky, a little bit smooth, Southern but citified, hip but not hippie, happy but not naive -- it precisely captures the Houston vibe.

“Hi, everybody, we’re Archie Bell and the Drells from Houston, Texas, and we don’t only sing, but we dance just as good as we want. In Houston, we just started a new dance, and it’s called the 'Tighten Up'. And this is the music we Tighten Up with…”

So what are your story anchors? Do you collage? Bake? Paint?


Suzan Harden said…
LOL - Do Barbies count?

"Where do you get your story ideas?"

"The toy aisle at Target."
Joni Rodgers said…
Hey, whatever works.

I've never used the B girl, but for a previous ms I kept a little collection of Dr. Who and Star Trek action figures in a Curious George lunch pail.
Cote de Texas said…
omg - this is hysterical - Archie, what memories! Thanks!

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