It seems like I get a hankering to get outdoors right as it’s getting to cold to actually go outside. But this evening I decided it was warm enough to hike part way up the mountain and try to get a few pictures of the sunset. Sunsets are hit and miss, and since I’m not really a good photographer, I tend to miss, even when the sunset is a hit. Tonight, this is what I got.
Again, I’m no photographer, but when I got back and threw all the photos on my computer, it was these pictures that caught my eye.
It got me thinking about writing (because lately writing is all I can seem to think about). There are a lot of cool stories out there. Epic stories. Stories with powerful messages. But what makes a story grand? It’s not the big picture. It’s the little ones. The details.
Consider J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic masterpiece. It’s a story of good, evil, courage, sacrifice, and everything in between. But how does it start? With tiny details. Small, but important.
In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort.
I can sense a world there. Tolkien doesn’t paint a large picture. He paints a small one. With small details. But from those details we get swept along on an epic journey. One that is made up of small details.
Consider the first line of Michael Crichton’s novel The Great Train Robbery:
Forty minutes out of London, passing through the rolling green fields and cherry orchards of Kent, the morning train of the South Eastern Railway attained its maximum speed of fifty-four miles and hour.
Nothing but details. But they hint at another world. A deep and rich world, one that the author has researched or imagined in great detail. I find myself wanting to read more of that world.
Sometimes in writers circles this focus on detail is described as “show, don’t tell. I don’t want the author to tell me the diner is a dump. I want to taste the flat Coke. I want to feel the sticky syrup on the faded plastic menus. I want to hear the flies buzzing every time the kitchen door opens. When I see the details, I get lost in the world.
I feel like story ideas are a dime a dozen. Anybody can imagine an epic journey, a wild adventure, or star-crossed lovers. But the devil is in the details. To write a good story, you must become intimate with the world you are trying to create. You must create dozens of scenes, filled with rich, vivid details.
The big picture is good, but the details are vital.