In the Details

1:52 PM


I've posted on time two weeks in a row. Fingers crossed.


I recently came upon what I would consider my most favorite writing quote of all time, if I had to pick. It makes me stop and think every time I run across it, and makes me re-look at my intentions.
isn't it just lovely
Write about the details. The small things.

In The Hunger Games, it's not the Games themselves, the fact of them, that draws out our sympathy and plays our emotions. It's that moment when Katniss volunteers for her sister, and the people around her hold up the three-finger salute that means honor and respect. 
Image result for the hunger games salute gif

In Mulan (yes, Mulan, I love it) we don't feel the effect of the devastation done by the Huns -- or at least, the characters don't -- when they come to the burnt-down village until someone picks up the little girl's doll, left behind in the panic. 
Image result for mulan doll gif
those childhood feels, man.
A lot of the time, it's something small like that that hits us and makes the scenario seem real. I'm really convinced that if I'm writing something powerful, a big issue, a big world with big conflict...the emotion is in the little things, the personal things, the relatable things. In a kid's doll. Or a symbol. Or a hug. That's the real tearjerker. (For me, at least.) 

So often we try to tackle something like war, murder, racism, space invasions -- big issues -- and we try to take it all at once. I've done that so many times. In fact, that's been my problem with Havard so far. I'm trying to write about war and mental illness and poverty all at once. Those are big problems. And I want to handle everything all at once. I wanted people to feel the scope of it, just how big it is, and I wanted it to hit them in a wall of feels. 

I went about it all the wrong way. 

Showing all the fighting wasn't working. Hoisting a troubling mental illness on every important character and having them constantly break down while others didn't understand wasn't working. All the description I wanted just...wasn't working. It took me a good long time to realize that I needed to zoom in. 
Image result for focus gif
yes, focus is needed.
I had to focus. 

Big things happen on a small scale, really, because they hit us personally, in our own ways, in every aspect of our lives. The emotion is in the personal everyday things and you can't convince me otherwise. 

The emotion isn't in the war, actually. The emotion is in the soldiers with their pictures of their families while they're on the front lines. It's in the individual soldier shaking because he's terrified and he doesn't know what he's doing with a gun. Pictures and shaking hands. 

The emotion isn't in mental illness as some big scary idea. It's in little nervous tics. The way she laughs off personal questions and dances around them. The way the main character struggles to breath because he can't break down in the middle of a normal conversation. Tics and forced laughing and awkward conversations and a tear when no one sees it. 

The emotion isn't in the big terrifying concept of "poverty". We can see it better in one family crowded into a two-room apartment, the way someone eats like they haven't in days (maybe they haven't), the way people take small normal things for granted, the way they react to a hot shower or a working elevator. 

Little things. Details, and facial expressions, and movements while someone is talking, and objects they keep close by, and abandoned things left behind. 

It's all in the details. And when you put a lot of details together, you get a big picture, usually a beautiful picture. Definitely one that tugs on heartstrings and feels more heartfelt. 

We live life in the details, for the most part.

What kinds of writing things have you learned lately?

24 comments

  1. Ooh, I was just thinking about this the other day! I haven't been able to write a lot lately (actually I've pretty much decided to take a break until I finish some life stuff and school. The only time I have right now is like 2 AM, and while sometimes stuff written at 2 AM is cool, never sleeping is not), but I've been trying to figure out how to write some of the more horrific things in the story effectively. I have a bad habit of falling into lengthy descriptions that meander and fall emotionally flat, so lately I've been trying to focus more on simple details without over-explaining.

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  2. Oh yes and yes I entirely agree!! Like I hadn't really thought about this so much before? But it's sooo true and your post just made me go "OH YES THIS IS HOW ALL BOOKS SHOULD BE". Particularly with that Mulan comparison! THAT was the part that hit me so so hard. And, I mean, it's a kids movie...there is no blood on the scene and no dead bodies. There's just this little doll without an owner and somehow that is more heartbreaking than anything else. Gahhhh. Yes. I definitely am going to keep this in mind. Body language. Reactions. Tics. <-- so important

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    1. Dude Mulan does this so well and it was the main example I could think of - I have no regrets. xD

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  3. ACK Aimee, this was epic! *commits all of this to memory* HOW can it be that something so SMALL can cause so many FEELS?!
    Definitely going to be using your advice XD.

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    1. I don't know, but it's so weirdly true? And I've found it to be the case with all/most of the things that have really affected me. IT IS A MYSTERY.

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  4. Yes, that makes so much sense.. and now I see that the smallest details have hit me the hardest in the books I've read too. Thank you for sharing this - I will definitely be keeping it in mind. :)

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  5. Ahhhh. This post is SOOOO GOOD. jhfalskjdfhlksdajfhlaskdj. *hugs post* I only recently found that writing quote on Pinterest, and I love it, and your thoughts on it!

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  6. This is so true and something I hadn't really thought about before. Awesome post!

    Ellie | On the Other Side of Reality

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  7. Love this. It's so true -- writing is about capturing those little details to pull emotion out of the reader. :) Great post Aimee! <3

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  8. Wow... Okay, new quote to add to my list of favorites. You've inspired me to go write a tearjerking, detail oriented scene in my current project... *high five*

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  9. This actually really reminds me of a tic I wrote in one of my characters. Tall guy, skinny as a rail, but when presented with food, he scarfs it down as fast as he can, because at one point in his life, he had to catch/kill/steal/defend every bit of food he ever had, and he never lost the habit, still scared of not having enough to eat.

    I'm a mean author.

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    1. oooooh yes that *is* mean, but definitely true. My character Sachi is a bit like that -- she's not used to having enough to eat, so she always feels like she has to take whatever she's given and hide some away for later, and she's still a little compulsive about stealing even when she doesn't need to because she's terrified of starving. It motivates a lot but that's not an explicitly stated thing, just something that drives her a lot of the time.

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  10. It makes writing things a lot more simple and powerful. Great post!

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  11. Wow, I love that quote. I'm actually trying to work on this. I've realized that it's something that I really need in my writing. I think this has sparked a few lovely evil little ideas for my book;)

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  12. Lovely post! I've been going through the same thing in my writing, trying to write too big. Zooming in is awesome! Thank you for being inspiring!

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  13. I'm not sure why I didn't read this earlier, because it's kind of something I've been thinking about recently. The small details are what make me love a story.

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  14. Am i super duper late on reading this blog post? Yep. Is this blog post absolutely amazing? Definitely yep. Great job Aimee!

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  15. This is so true!! It's like, you gotta grab your reader when they're most vulnerable, but that doesn't have to be through long, drawn out descriptions. You can get the same point across by simply having a stranger jump in front of a bullet for your main character because they know something you don't, or in the remembrance of how the best friend's mother used to make her pancakes every Sunday before church. It's the little bits that when revealed, can cause an overwhelming amount of emotion due to a little fragment of the kindness of people.

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