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Writing Big

October 1, 2008

There is a massive mural on the North Side of Pittsburgh that rests on the upper portion of a tall building. Two female artists created the image using a scaffold and lots of paint. I like painting but I can’t imagine painting on this scale. I can’t picture how the artists were able to create the images in proportion, especially from so close.

I was thinking about this in terms of writing and I realized that I write on a small scale whether I’m writing fiction or nonfiction. My characters are typically introverted and I usually use fewer than five people in my stories. My nonfiction typically involves autism, hypnosis and psychology; all of which are introspective on some level.

I might try to break my habit of writing small. Tackling large-scale topics is uncomfortable for me. I like to focus on the mind and close interpersonal experiences. It may be time to make some writing changes.

Do you write on a large scale? Can you give suggestions about how I can look at the big picture?

  1. October 1, 2008 1:03 pm

    Hello Everyone,
    Tammi I really liked your article today and the thoughts that it inspired in me. I used your story for my writing prompt today and wrote To see the big Picture! I have not been leaving links to what I write about when I read the articles here. I have been inspired and have written on a few of the stories here and not left a comment.
    I feel like I am spamming the site with the links to my posts, and I know that the writers can see the incoming links when I write about their stories. The only reason I am leaving a comment here today is because no one else has commented on your wonderful thought provoking story. I could really use some advice on links and comments…When they are appropriate and when they are not!
    Enjoy Life!  

  2. October 1, 2008 4:45 pm


    You just go right on linking, dude. We appreciate your time and your enthusiasm. You’re not spamming at all – and you’re sweet to be concerned.

    Keep on linking!

  3. October 1, 2008 7:52 pm

    Interesting article, Tammi. I tend to try and write big stuff and get too caught up in getting the technical details right that the actual writing, the emotional bits get lost.

    I saw that today reading how decent my flash fiction was last year.

    I think I might do the Creative Carnival this time ’round.

  4. October 1, 2008 8:33 pm

    I think Jeff is probably right, Tammy, you write the big picture more than you give yourself credit. Writing “small” is a great thing. It brings a book to life. So it sounds like you have half the battle already won.

    Now, I’m not an accomplished writer (working very hard to get there though.) I am, however, a skilled painter and I find your analogy an interesting one. I don’t know if this is right or if this is even what you had in mind when you asked, but his is how I do it and how your analogy struck me (Wow I wonder if I can add a few more conjunctions to that last sentence) AND here we go:

    First thing a painter does, is start with an idea; usually fairly nebulous. Sounds a lot like the spark for a book, doesn’t it? – the “what if” or “what would happen if” single sentence.

    Then you let it simmer: decide what you want the piece to say, what you want a viewer to take away form it. Is it going to be a bunch of flowers — romance? Is it going to be a political painting — horror novel? *wink* I let an idea grow in my head before I ever start painting/writing anything. Expand the original idea. Let your imagination soar!

    Start your pencil sketches: When writing, I begin to see the idea like a movie. I move from major incident to major incident. The two most important scenes in my head are always “here is where I want to start” and “this is where I want to end up” If you don’t know were you are heading, you can’t get there!

    The original drawing: Once a direction is set down, a master drawing is done. A painting can deviate from the master drawing, but it gives you a place to jump off. Most writers, I would think, call this the outline. Remember an outline doesn’t always start were a story starts – don’t neglect back-story. If you find you don’t have enough story to give you, say a novel, perhaps your “want to start” and your “want to end up” are too close together. Or your original “what if” statement is too specific. OR maybe you haven’t let your imagination run wild long enough. You may find you need to put more stumbling blocks in the way of the protagonist reaching the final goal. Don’t forget sub-plots — think of your own life. Does it run smoothly or are there always other things outside “your story” getting in the way of you reaching your final goal? How does your goal change as you crash into new hurdles? Who gets in the way?

    From here, there are many ways to go. It really depends on the type of painter/writer you are. You can choose color pallets – character descriptions. You can write out a general page for each chapter – detailed drawings. Or, like me cause I have no patients, jump right in to the 20 foot wall.

    If you take anything away form this long and tiresome rant it should be this – never fixate on the 20 foot wall! Everything needs to fit, yes, but if you obsess on the scope, you will never start or worse yet you will never finish.

    Next, once again depending on what kind of painter/writer you are, you either: sketch out the whole painting on the wall – write the book quickly with little regard for detail, color, texture, sentence structure, whatever. Once you have that done, go back and re-write keeping in mind details, character, placement, feelings emotional and textural, smells, anything else that makes the book sing. “I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.” ~James Michener

    OR you start to paint everything with great attention to detail.

    The more time you take to outline, think about, or even day dream your story, the easier it will be when its time to write.

    As for characters, have enough to tell the story. If your 100,000-word opus only has two characters that’s ok, if the story was served.

    I would also strongly contend, if you don’t view art you won’t have the tools of a painter, but Stephen King says it better:
    “It’s hard for me to believe that people who read very little – or not at all in some cases – should presume to write and expect people to like what they have written. Can I be blunt on this subject? If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time – or the tools – to write. Simple as that.”

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