Don't Forget the Detail

There is only one place where I never forget to look up: cathedrals. Like in York Minster, where the photo to the left was taken. Cathedrals are something special, something so ornate that to ignore the detail that has been painstakingly etched into it, is to ignore the very essence of the building itself. 

Novels are like that. To only look at the big picture, i.e., the plot, we ignore so much of the ornate detail that has been painstakingly placed between the covers by the author. So much of a novel is not the plot, but the characters and their personalities, the setting, the descriptions...it’s much more than the big picture.

When you write a novel, I think you should be concerned with the big picture. If the big picture is blurry, then the novel ultimately fails. However, I think too many authors forget that the entire picture is composed of many different, and smaller, things. In a picture, if there is poor lighting, dull colors or no contrast, and too little texture...the picture is not worth looking at for long. 

Lighting, contrast, and texture are equivalent to character development and minor characters, setting and description. If the characters are underdeveloped, if description is lacking, no matter the plot, the story is hardly worth reading. And if you do make it through to the end, then it’s probably not a novel that will stick with you for long.

The challenge, as an author, is to not perfect the big picture and think that you’re done, or that everything else is perfect because the plot is strong. Yet you also cannot get bogged down with the little things at the expense of the big picture. If you focus too much on the details, the overall plot begins to suffer. 

An author must balance many, many things in writing a novel, but perhaps grasping the importance of details is the greatest. A strong character can carry a weak plot, but a strong plot cannot carry a weak character.