I've been reading Hooked by Les Edgerton. I've posted about it before, but I read a section recently - about story-worthy problems - that I feel compelled to share.
"Good and worthy story problems derive from the small and the particular and the individual. Not the grandiose. Don't begin a story with the intent of writing about a grand topic, such as freedom for instance."Yes! This reminds me of Ralph Fletcher's saying, "The bigger the topic, the smaller you write." We can't write a story well if we're trying to focus on ALL of something. We need to narrow the topic until we can make it personal, emotional, powerful. Les Edgerton provides a fabulous example:
...some years ago we had civil strife in this country over states' rights versus federalism and slavery, among other things. We called it the Civil War. ...there were a great many essays and speeches written on both sides about the conflict - even without chat rooms - and most of those are now forgotten except to academics specializing in such knowledge.Wow. For me, this example was like a punch in the gut - but in a good way. The first time I read Uncle Tom's Cabin, I was crying at my desk, in front of my students, by the end of chapter three. It's powerful stuff. And Edgerton's right - it's because of her focus on specific people and their lives that we react as strongly as we do. No one has ever made me care about characters more than she did. That book hurt me, which is exactly what she wanted it to do.
What lots more people do remember about this chapter in our history, however, is a little book titled Uncle Tom's Cabin, written by a lady named Harriet Beecher Stowe. This book had a powerful effect on the nation, both the North and the South. Why? Because she focused on one particular, the life of Uncle Tom and the effect of slavery upon him.
By narrowing our story's problem and limiting its focus, we make it more emotionally powerful. Edgerton says it better than I can: "Always get your story down to the level of individuals. We can see individuals. We can't see The Forces of Capitalism vs. The Forces of Communism."
What piece of writing advice/wisdom hit you like a punch in the gut?