Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Write Small

My favorite writing guru, Ralph Fletcher, says, "The bigger the issue, the smaller you write." According to Ralph, it is the single most important thing for writers to remember. In his book, What a Writer Needs, he provides a wonderful example of what he means.



Recently I asked a high school teacher if there was a drug problem in his school. He smiled sadly, shook his head.

"Not really, not now, but let me tell you about something that happened a couple years ago. This kid got hurt one day on the athletic field. Broke his leg in three places. They had to bring in a helicopter and pull the kid out. The big copter - landed right on the field. When kids saw the copter, they panicked. 'The narcs are coming! The narcs are coming.' they rushed out of their classes and into the bathroom. All you could hear was the sound of toilets flushing and flushing all over the school."
In another example, he included the story of a first grader whose mother had died two years earlier. Almost everything she wrote that year had something to do with the tragedy of losing her mother.

The bigger the issue, the smaller we need to write. That's when we need to focus in on the details, to slow down and paint a clear picture.
"You don't write about a serious drug problem. You write about a helicopter landing and the sound of toilets flushing frantically throughout a high school. You don't write about the death of a mother: You write about how 'her voice got quieter.'"
I love Ralph Fletcher. I've attended several of his writing workshops, and I always leave with a wealth of new tools to become a stronger writer. I also use several of his student writing books in my classroom. He's one of the best out there, folks.

32 comments:

Kari said...

Ah, what a great post. This is such an excellent point. Thanks, Shannon.

Kelly said...

Great examples, Shannon!

Lindsay (a.k.a Isabella) said...

Fantastic examples. It's the samewith over explaining. Sometimes simple is best. :)

DL Hammons said...

Great advice! Thanks for sharing it with us.

KarenG said...

Wonderful examples! So true. This book sounds like a winner! I'll have to put it on my list. How nice to have a writing guru. I guess if I were to pick mine, I'd say Sol Stein.

Jen said...

Just what you gave us here was extremely powerful so this sounds someone I would love to meet and listen to his conferences, he'd be worthwhile for sure.

Thank you for sharing Shannon!

Heidi Willis said...

Wow! What powerful examples!! Just a better way of re-emphasizing to show instead of tell!

Kenda said...

The images are powerful, and say much more than words could say. Wow! Thanks so much for calling our attention to Ralph Fletcher's book. My birthday's coming up, maybe I'll put that on the list :-)

Jemi Fraser said...

Great post - I like that advice. Great examples to use too.

Heather Kelly said...

This guy sounds amazing. And the concept itself. Life (and therefore writing) is always in the details.

Aubrie said...

Wow, wise advice. I really do need to slow down in the important parts.

Tere Kirkland said...

Huh. This has given me a lot to think about. I'm stuck on a scene I'm rewriting and I may have to ponder this for a while.

Thanks for the quotes!

Carolyn V. said...

Awesome info!

I couldn't help notice what you are currently reading. The Ranger's Apprentice. How awesome! We love that series. Will you tell me how you like it when you are done? =)

Patti Lacy said...

WOW! Natasha and I were talking about this today. Will have to purchase What a Writer Needs.

Hope you can visit my FIRST GUEST AUTHOR today!

Exciting!

Blessings,
Patti
www.pattilacy.com/blog

storyqueen said...

What a Writer Needs is my favorite about-writing-book of all time.

I heart Ralph.

Shelley

Palindrome said...

you win for best advice of the day!

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

That's a wonderful perspective and makes so much sense. If you don't give the detail, the emotion, the anecdotes on a big issue, you could be in danger of sounding like you're pontificating or lecturing. thx

Elle Strauss said...

Thanks for the recomend..I'm looking for a new writing book. Already ordered it!

Terri Tiffany said...

I've never heard of him but your endoresment makes me want to read it! I love how he looks at things.

Vicki Rocho said...

I was reading that literally, wondering why I'd want to shrink the font! I knew that wasn't right, but couldn't imagine what was meant by 'small'. Thanks for the examples!

Jessie Oliveros said...

Hey, this is perfect for me right now. My MC is tackling a big issue. Must write small.

Charmaine Clancy said...

This book sounds promising - it may have to be added to my growing addiction of writing books (which I refuse to flush, even if the narcs do turn up). :-)

Jennifer Shirk said...

Hey, that's really interesting and really true when you think about it.
Now I'm going to need to check out that book. :)

Theresa Milstein said...

Your examples illustrate the point. It's a good way to teach history too. Students don't always care about big-picture issues, but if you can show how some policy or event affected a family or a person, it becomes personal to them.

Roxane B. Salonen said...

Shannon, my friend, how I have missed you! I'm not "back" all the way yet but working my way closer to that. I had to peek in today, though, and I'm so glad I did. Getting ready to take a little time away from my regular space to carve out time, once and for all, to start my YA novel. And I know the subject I'm tackling is, in the end, a big subject, and I am one who easily forgets to keep things simple. I'm fairly certain I was directed to visit your blog today for a reason, and I am extremely grateful. This was an important reminder to me. I only wish I had time to read the book before I leave tomorrow. Thanks to you, though, you've sifted through for me to a nugget that I WILL remember and call on frequently. Thank you friend!

I hope the summer is treating you well. It's so good to know you're still out here doing your thing -- inspiring all in your path.

Blessings...

beth said...

Oh--that was so touching. Her voice got quieter... So true.

Valerie said...

Really loved this post and the examples. Thanks so much for sharing this. I think this is one of those tips that will really stick with me!

Rayna M. Iyer said...

Really powerful posts, those. I learn so much about the craft of writing everytime I visit your blog. Thank you.

Elaine AM Smith said...

Inspirational - powerful work from Ralph Fletcher.

Lori W. said...

This post is excellent! Thank you, Shannon. I'm going to have to get the Ralph Fletcher book.

Mohamed Mughal said...

Instructive post! I find that when the issue is big, not only does the external environment in my writing get "smaller", but so does the internal. I try to capture the detailed nuances of the characters' inner experience of that "big" issue.

Margo Berendsen said...

Wow, this is wonderful advice and so well put! I have NEVER heard of Ralph Fletcher before -- thank you for enlighting me! This book is on the Must Read list now.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...