Write Small

Hi again, gang. Craig here, and it’s time for another one of my rambling analogies. A few years ago, my wife and I went camping at Craters of the Moon National Monument. This place consists of about a hundred miles of broken lava fields. If you thought of Gimli’s line about miles of razor sharp rocks, you wouldn’t be far off.

Let’s start with this photo. It shows the lava field running off into the distance. It doesn’t do anything beyond prove that I was there. There is no interest, no focal point, nothing. I can be critical, I was the photographer.

When I wrote about it on my blog, I used the line “Look Small.” I don’t know why it stuck with me, but I knew it meant something at the time. In the case of Craters, it means things are very interesting right under your feet. Here is another photographic example. I have more, but won’t clog up this post to make my point. We’re moving into writing now.

I’ve always loved a good space opera. I like the idea of fleet movements, positioning, strategy, and all the science fiction peripherals. We can watch planets rise and set, deal with high gravity locations, lack of oxygen and more. I don’t feel like I write them well. Something was always missing.

My problem was like the landscape picture up above. Planets and ships don’t make for a story. I failed to look small.

In our stories, we have to capture our readers on a level they can relate to. Those big picture items aren’t as important as the small items. I can imagine a red planet rising across the horizon if you write it, but I can feel a cold cup of coffee on my end table. I can taste it, and understand that so much more.

I’m not telling you to avoid the big picture, you need it too. Today, I want to look small. Keep in mind that just because I write speculative fiction, this concept is not limited to that. That cold coffee works in all the other genres too.

Since I started with science fiction, let’s stay there a while. Instead of looking small, we want to write small. Giant battle cruisers might be cool, but could you relate more to having a fly inside your space helmet? One you can’t do anything about until your mission is over? We’ve all been annoyed by a fly, and we understand that.

Don’t write science fiction? Put that fly in the closet where you’re hiding from the serial killer. It makes it all more real somehow. Your story might be about some heroic adventure, but a minute to dwell on the new girl’s cute overbite will help readers relate to your characters. (I just watched a Kate Beckinsale movie.)

I’m going to caution you that some of this goes too far. We’ve all read articles where they discuss the use of too much description. Too much writing small can become the same distraction. From my standpoint, you use more of this up front, but eventually you have to get to the spaceships. Once we understand the character, who he/she is, and possibly what they want, then we move from the small to the medium.

Give your readers something they can relate to, before you move to the big picture. This doesn’t mean you can’t open with action either. Tearing the earring from your lobe as you run through the spooky forest from the zombie hoard will work too. I’ve never seen a zombie, but I have suffered a bloody wound before. It’s a different kind of hook. I’m going to relate to the character, and may want to find out what happens to her on the next page.

How about it, gang? I never heard the term “write small” before, but I’m going with it. Is there a place for writing small in your own projects? Have I given you something to think about? Ever had an earring ripped out? Give me something here.

Note: This has become a mini-series of sorts. The next one is called Write Medium. The final one is called Write Large.

53 thoughts on “Write Small

  1. Pingback: Write Small | Ann Writes Inspiration

  2. Pingback: Write Large | Story Empire

  3. Pingback: Write Medium | Story Empire

  4. Such great tips. I’m a detail person but find sometimes I add too many details. It’s all a balancing dance. Having great Beta readers and an editor is my life saver. Staci, thanks for having Craig stop by. Always great stuff here. ❤

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Pingback: Author Inspiration and Last Week’s Writing Links – Staci Troilo

  6. After reading Staci’s response, I thought of the scene in Fellowship of the Ring where Frodo and the other hobbits were hiding from the black riders. Bugs and all sorts of stuff were crawling on them but they had to remain quiet or risk death, losing the ring, and the ultimate fall of Middle Earth.

    I like the idea of writing small. Puts the readers right into the story.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I shared this on my author Facebook page. Really enjoyed it. I read a book or article a long time ago (so can’t remember as much as I should) about macro and micro fiction. I like “write small” better. Will stick in my mind more.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. I like the idea of “write small.” Often it isn’t the big ticket items I take away from a book but the smaller details that make me bond with a character. Tension can be every bit as nail-biting-edge-of-your-seat hiding in the closet from the serial killer with a fly buzzing around as it can be in the big epic space battle. You always come up with excellent anthologies for writing. Great post!


  9. Well-said, Craig. Sometimes that small fly or mosquito can change the entire dynamics of a story. And, as a reader, it’s the little unusual details that draw me. The dress was red. But, when the dress was red, slit up the side and made from exquisite satin, I can see it. You make a very good point here. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You keyed on the one thing that I always remind myself: Find something small that the reader can relate to.

    So much of what we read or watch centers around that small little moment. She likes a dash of hazelnut in her coffee. He has a wrinkle in his sock. She has a favorite team.

    Connect with the reader on the small things and they will follow you everywhere.

    Excellent post! Thanks.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Perfect, Craig. “Write small,” I love it. I’m seeing someone in a closet hiding from a motion detecting bot. There’s a fly that continues to land on the face. Can’t make a sound, can’t even move to brush the fly away. Super stuff.

    Liked by 3 people

  12. I’m picturing someone with a life-threatening allergy to bees hiding from a slasher in the woods — next to an active hive. And one bee has landed on her arm.

    This is so crucial for writing, especially tense scenes. I’m glad you addressed it. (And I’m going to be bothered by the bee image all day.) Great post.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I love the phrase “write small,” because it’s simple, easy-to-remember, and perfect to get the point across. In fact, I’m going to print it on a small slip of paper, and stick it above my keyboard. (Because I tend to “forget large.”) 😀 Great post, as always, Craig!

    Liked by 2 people

  14. Never heard the term, but it makes me think of the phrase ‘don’t forget the details’. I always prefer to create the big picture by putting a bunch of smaller pieces together. Most things can be divided into smaller chunks, so you really can’t stay on that top level. Reminds me of characters who are considered larger than life, but have absolutely no depth to them.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Great post, Craig. This goes up there right along with getting your hook in as soon as possible. Starting small helps with this. You’re right; the bigger picture can wait a while. We need to meet the MC, care about their immediate predicament, and then have it unfold and expand. Thanks for sharing 🙂

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