Avoid reader confusion by anchoring story

Readers beginning a story need to know where and when the tale occurs. This establishment of the story’s place and time in the first few paragraphs of the story sometimes is referred to as anchoring.

Without such anchoring, most readers will imagine that the story occurs in a different place and time than the author intended. This can lead to confusion later in the story when the author provides details that conflict with this imagined anchor. Or worse, without such anchoring, the reader will be disoriented from the start (Of course, such disorientation may be intentional – for example, if the main character has amnesia – but this strategy only works for a fraction of all tales written.).

The author need not get too specific about the place and time. That the story occurs in a large city probably is more important to know than giving the exact metropolis. In fact, giving the city’s name can be limiting as the author now must give details specific to that community. That the story occurs in the future is more important to know than giving the exact year. Indeed, in stories written during the 20th century that were set in the then far-off future year of “1999” are now out of date.

In addition, the author should avoid using exposition to provide the place and time. For example, rather than telling “It was noon in a summer day in the city” show it by writing “The glare of the sun directly overhead left every driver in the traffic jam worried about their car overheating from the air conditioner set on full blast.” The latter infers that it’s the lunch hour on a hot day in a metro area.