I'm in LA, visiting my dear friend Suzanne, researching some locations for my next novel, and launching into the edits for Emma Jean. This combination of work has me thinking about little picture writing and big picture writing.
Little picture writing = Edits for Emma Jean (the tiny things like approving comma changes and so on). You could include specific details, description, scenes and final polishing.
Big picture writing = Scouting and visualizing locations for the next novel. It might also translate as theme, premise, character motivation, and story.
See the difference?
Little picture writing encompasses all the little beats and details that, taken together, create a novel. The truth is, novel writing is a back and forth process between the little and the big. You write dialogue between two main characters and realize that what you just wrote impacts the theme. You tinker with a scene near the beginning of the book, tightening and honing it, and see that what you just did impacts everything that follows it, all the way to the end.
It's important to be able to think both big picture and little picture, though most people are more comfortable with one mode or the other. (I'm a big picture gal myself.) Because if you can't think big picture, you're going to have trouble coming up with an overarching structure for the novel. And if you can't think little picture, you're going to struggle with writing scenes that make the reader feel like she's there.
Anne Lamott, in her writing classic Bird by Bird, tells of keeping a small picture frame on her desk. If she flounders in her writing, she picks up the frame and peers through it, reminding herself that all she needs to write about is what she can see through that frame. This is a great reminder for writers. And yet, you need to keep the big picture in mind, too. You need to be able to write the little picture that you see through that frame while keeping the big picture firmly in mind.
It's really not that hard, and I think its good for you, because I'm pretty sure it engages the whole brain. But if you battle with big picture writing, remember this: it's really just a bunch of little picture writing strung together. And if you struggle with little picture writing, ponder the following: it's really just the big picture divided into portions.
I'm simplifying wildly, of course. But that's because more and more these days I'm seeing that what this writing game is about is just writing. Clearing away the worry and the obsessing and the advice and the critiquing and just writing.
Which is the hardest thing of all to do.
So, tell me. Are you more comfortable with the big picture or the little picture?
If you do struggle with writing novels, you might be interested in my Get Your Novel Written Now class which begins next week. In four weeks you'll be raring to go! Check out the page with more information here.
Photo by melodi2.