Starting Small: Capturing the Details

No topic is too small to feature God, and no story is too ordinary to resonate with humanity.

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So often, writers pressure themselves to write the great American novel with traumatized protagonists, star-crossed lovers, and robotic, galactic aliens. We discount simplicity, convinced that in order to be rememberable, our stories need to be complicated and abstruse.

Good writing is simply writing done well. It’s organized and centralized on a few key ideas without wandering so abstractly in the clouds. It’s understandable why writers want to start out with concepts like “love” or “forgiveness.” These are noble thematic elements. But interestingly enough, overarching notions don’t resonate with readers unless they’re stitched to specifics. It’s our tangible testimonies that connect with humanity.  

Instead of sitting down to write about “love,” think about your brother’s bicycle helmet or the Reese’s a coworker left on your desk. Think about that Thursday at the ice cream parlor where you accidentally said “I love you” first. Start with the small details, and you will find that the major messages will reveal themselves organically without needing to be shown off.        

Because of this, embrace every detail of your life. Don’t fear that a topic is ever too popular or mundane for you to add your own splash of color to it. God has crafted you to be a representative of His voice, and your individual story contains a unique perspective. The small details in which differentiate your bridal shower from your neighbor’s matter. They all matter.

A great way to test your writing’s organization is to simplify it to one nucleus. What is the main event? What is the central idea? Can you tell a 10-year-old what your story is about? Too many ideas in a written piece—no matter its length— make a reading experience feel like shopping for silverware in an antique shop: overwhelming and unnecessary.    

It’s okay if you don’t get to say everything you originally planned to. Don’t throw that other stuff away; keep it for other generated creations! Personal essayist Shauna Niequist has written multiple, different pieces about her miscarriages, and each one is stunning in its individualism. You’re allowed to recycle a topic as long as its succession is rooted in distinctive details and tone.

Write about your grandfather’s fried okra. Write about your stepson’s obsession with yoyos. No topic is too small to feature God, and no story is too ordinary to resonate with humanity.

Don’t fear simplicity; embrace it.



Featured Image by Samuel Elias

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