Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Devil in the Details

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.

Not bad, but nothing to scream about. It's a sunset. It's the sun. It's setting. Nifty.

I took a dozen or so of these. It was pretty simple. Just point the camera and click. They all looked fine. As I walked along the trail, I noticed some withered flowers. I got the idea to take a picture of them, up close. It was a little more difficult. I had to take off my backpack, sit or lie in the mud, and get the focus just right. I took a few pictures of the flowers, and put the sunset in the background. The result was a little different.

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.


Dannon Loveland said...

Great pictures!

elenajube said...

So true. Thanks for reminding me. Love those photos.

Small Town Shelly Brown said...

This is good for me because I'm generally a big story gal and I'm afraid of boring my readers (who can be rather young) with details BUT you're right. The detail matter.

Love the pictures by the way. My fave is the one with the two flowers.

peglaree said...

Couldn't agree more. Although I suppose I could agree in more detailed fashion... ;-) Well-stated!

Mike Insalaco said...

Marion, you have an incredible talent of capturing things with the word and now with the picture.

Josi said...

Great pictures. That last one looks like a dead rat hanging from it's tail. Just saying. Great post :-)

Marion Jensen said...

It is a rat, but it's not dead. I trained it to hang upside down on that branch. It's one of my hobbies. Writing. Board games. Rat trainer.

Nancy Campbell Allen said...

Awesome pics and very good writing observations. It's so true! I'm going to go through my current mss with an eye for small details.

Cory Webb said...

Wow, what a well-written post. I agree; it isn't really what is written, but HOW it's written, that makes all the difference.

tap songs said...

indeed. great pictures. can i use them for my wallpaper?

Marion Jensen said...

Tap Songs. Yes, you can. This blog and the images that are mine are licensed under a Creative Commons license, so have fun. :)

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