Thursday, November 11, 2010

Do You Write Big or Small?

Lately I've been looking at my work and wondering why it feels so boring when I prop it up next to other stories. I finally realized it's because I've been comparing it to other stories that aren't even in the same realm. You know, that apples to oranges thing. Here's the thing: I write small.

I was having dinner with a friend last night and we touched on the subject of ideas. She told me her latest idea and my mouth dropped open. It was so...sparkly. I was a bit dazzled and then I thought about my own ideas and they just looked seriously lame.

You see, big is not better than small. Apples are not better than oranges. Sparkly ideas are not better than matte ideas. It pretty much means we are all different and like different things. I like intimate settings, small groups of characters, stories about small changes. The sparkly ideas seem to work on grander scale settings and deal with larger groups of characters (or at least characters interacting with larger groups) who bring about big changes either in their world or themselves.

I don't mean to say every story can be categorized as big or small. Some of the best stories incorporate elements of both. On the whole, however, I do think most writers tend to lean more toward one or the other. Which one do you lean toward?


  1. I diffidently write big. I tackle huge concepts. I really should try to write something small as I feel some of my character building could use some work.

  2. Project: Yeah, I think I'm incapable of tackling huge concepts even thought I really, really want to sometime!

  3. Great post Michelle! I think I generally write in the smaller realm. I like the intimacy of a few characters, one or two settings.

    I don't think I could write big. I don't think I have it in me. Writing what I do is already hard enough.

  4. I have this terrible problem. I start out writing a small short story and somewhere around page five it starts turning into a big novel. I guess you could say my WIP developes delusions of grandeur.

  5. I think I write a very small perspective inside a very huge concept.

    I think.

  6. I tend to write big (in concept, not in word count).

  7. This is related to that whole bugaboo, "high concept," isn't it? Damn you, high concept, damn you!

    But Michelle, I must challenge you on this. The premises of your books seem pretty high concept to me. What if Cinderella didn't like her happy ending? (Upending famous fairytale=high concept). What if a spy sought sanctuary from betrayals in his past with an innkeeper? (Spies=high concept).

    I do think, however, that you look at the more subtle forms of conflict between people, and that's what I think you are calling "small." If that's the case, then there's nothing wrong with small.

  8. Small, intimate. I find it easier to manage.

  9. Anne: You do write in the smaller realm, yes, at least what I've read of your work so far. I don't think I have it in me to write really big, either.

    Chuck: Haha, that's funny about your WIP developing delusions of grandeur. I didn't necessarily mean size, though. I think short stories can be Big, too, meaning they deal with grand-scale ideas and characters.

    Nevets: That's a great description of what you write, I think. I think that's what some of my favorite fiction does.

    Rick: More power to you! I don't write big in word count, either.

    Tara: Ah, I think you misunderstood me, which is entirely possibly because my definitions in this quickly-put-up post are pretty vague.

    When I say Big I don't mean high concept - not in the slightest. I mean less intimate, meaning the plots deal with worldwide-type events and widespread consequences of the decisions the characters make.

    My father-in-law came up with an excellent scale for this called the fiction scale. You can find it here. I should do another post about it as a spin off of this.

    Thanks for the challenge! It's nice to see how this is being perceived.

    Loren: I do, too!

  10. Thanks for the clarification. I guess you mean more "local" rather than "global." Personal stories -- about saving a soul rather than saving a world?

  11. When I think big vs. small I think scale, scope, and resolution.

    How tight is my focus, how narrow is my playing field, and what's more important -- the players or the game?

    In archaeology, it would have corresponded to a test unit vs. a site survey vs. a regional study.

    In forensic anthropology, it would have corresponded to a specific injury or feature vs. an individual profile vs. a case study vs. a research sample.

  12. Oh, and I dig your FIL's scale, Michelle.

  13. I write small, I think...though I try to pull in enough 'big' to keep the story flowing. It is a challenge!

  14. I go big. I'll include small scenes and have characters undergo subtle changes, but the overall concept is always big.

    Except that one time. And although the short story turned out quite well, I'm not about to make a habit of it. Small just isn't my style.

  15. Great post, Michelle! I write small because if I start thinking too big, I lose focus.

    I like how you put it in your third paragraph. I completely agree that size and sparkle-quotient doesn't matter; it's just different and variety is a good thing!

  16. Tara: Yeah, I guess, haha. This post is a good example of my brain extremely distracted. I love smaller stories more than the bigger stories, but I'll admit the bigger stories always sound cooler in a pitch.

    Nevets: That's a good way of looking at it. I think I'm talking in more general terms, but that's okay. We dig deeper. Glad you like the scale. :)

    Tess: After reading your book I'm thinking you write small, yes. Every story needs a little bit of big pulled in, I do agree on that, although I have seen some that don't and work just fine. It depends on the writing, I guess.

    Nate: Hehe, yeah. Big doesn't seem to be my style. I'm pretty certain readers usually like one or the other and gravitate towards those kinds of stories. We all have our tastes!

    Gabi: Variety is a MUST, yes. If we all wrote the same stuff we'd die of boredom.

  17. I think I tend to have... I dunno, like this bubble. Big plot, but a definite small cast/focus. (It may involve saving the world, but they only care about their tiny corner. Screw the rest.) It involves a big picture but I like focusing on the smaller, more detail points and leave the big-scale things on the fringes, alluded to rather than focused on.

    Interesting topic!

  18. My current WIP started small, then I got carried away. I ruined nice and intimate beginning with a meandering conspiracy plot line. So typical of me.

  19. I honestly have no idea. I think of my stories as very intimate and internal, but Davin tells me that my characters are "larger than life." So I don't know. But for me, the internal landscape is more important than the external. I have realized that even in stories with larger casts, I write very few scenes with more than two people in them at the same time.

  20. Merc: Wow, yours sounds a bit complicated. I'd say you write small if the main focus is on that small cast of characters and the main changes of the story happen within them.

    Charlie: Hah! I doubt it's all that bad.

    Scott: After reading "Killing Hamlet" I'm pretty darn certain you write small, maybe edging toward big, but small is the main focus.

  21. I almost universally tend to favor reading and writing smaller scale stories. I like a few, well-developed characters interacting. I've found that most of the "grander" stories are much more plot-based, events actually occurring, and sometimes I'm left wanting in the character department. But vice versa has happened as well with the smaller stories.

    I like writing small, it feels more like I'm creating a little family for myself. :)


  22. I've been thinking about this and I'm still not sure. Probably big. I think I like speculative fiction because the questions usually big. But it always operates on two levels, doesn't it?

  23. I started out writing small, but now I think my stories are getting bigger and bigger.

    But y'know what? Even as I grind through a relatively high-concept novel, I'm still pining for that little, intimate, psycho-emotional journey novella I shelved last year. I'm kind of looking forward to going back to that one actually.

    Huh. I do believe I'm confused as to what kind of writer I am. O.o

  24. I'm small and matte, white on white, a faint shadow. :) Those are the stories I love to write...I just hope others love to read them!

  25. Big D: Sometimes you write in invisible ink and we have to run our fingers over the pages, as if we're reading Braille. That's when we find out that there are sharp edges and little points in your work that prick our fingers and draw blood. Which is to say, you write cool stuff.

  26. Tara: I love how you put that about the little family. That's how I like to feel with my stories, too.

    Tara: Yes, it does operate on two levels. I would say you write more big than small from what I've read of yours work. However, I have yet to read Conmergence. That looks like it will probably be smaller. Don't know yet!

    Simon: I think you're still figuring it out and searching. Believe it or not, that is a very exciting plate to be. :)

    Davin: Well I crave your writing, that's for sure. I really, really do. So there's one fan!

  27. Thanks so much for this post! It makes me feel better about my own story, right in the middle of NaNo, when suddenly I'm doubting everything...

  28. I would like your permission to put your comments about "small writing" on my blog...


  29. How refreshing! I have been subject to the belief that writing small was something that I needed to grow out of. Not so.

    I tend to focus on only a few characters in most of my work, and its hard for me to branch out into bigger casts and big complicated plots. Big writing is not for everyone and that doesn't make small writing inferior writing.

    Thank you, Michelle!

  30. Deniz: Aww, I'm glad I could be of some help! Good luck with NaNo. :)

    Audrey: Yes, you may post whatever you like from this site as long as the proper credit and links are given. Thanks!

    Elise: Small writing is absolutely not inferior! I actually prefer it. Sounds like I'd like your work. :)


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