“The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kids burnt sock lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.” – Richard Price
So this quote above is something I stumbled across on line a good number of weeks back now and reading it was like getting slapped in the face. I have no idea why but in the moment, and even now as I reflect on it, this seems to be the best piece of writing advice I’ve come across in a long time, possibly even ever! (I know, dramatic.)
As I mainly write contemporary fiction I’m very big on character and thematically driven stories. I thought a lot about the quote and then about some of the best books I’ve ever read and I realised how much it really rings true. Let’s look at some examples:
The Book Thief
Big Issue: War
Basic Idea of Book: A girl who steals books.
Perks of Being a Wallflower
Big Issue: Mental Illness
Basic Idea of Book: Charlie makes some friends.
Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe
Big Issue: Race and Sexuality
Basic Idea of Book: A really angry kid has no friends.
The Fault in Our Stars
Issue: Love, Mortality (Cancer)
Idea: Girl and boy fall in love.
You see? All of these stories had a massive impact for me because of how down to earth, real and simple the plotlines were. None of them were preachy, none shoved the theme in my face every page. They all hit me across the face when I closed the book and learnt something and realised I couldn’t shake the theme from my head despite the fact I was never told explicitly what that was.
Like I said, I’m not totally sure why this piece of advice was so valuable to me, well maybe what I’ve pointed out above. But it was. It’s something that I’m constantly trying to keep in mind why I’m working on a project. I think it’s because people can’t comprehend the horrors of war. It’s too much, too big to wrap our human minds around. But a burnt kids sock. That’s small and it resonates and it’s an image that’s very hard to shake from our heads.
So if the issue is big, write small because it’s those small images that often punch with the most impact.