Doing some reading for a friend lately, I realised that with each piece I read, there was a pattern developing in my responses to it. I kept thinking of an inverted pyramid, with each piece starting with a grand opening, before working its way down, by each successive paragraph, until it concluded with a single final story of one family, or one group, one community, or merely just one person. And each time, it provoked an emotional response in me (yeah, I know. Who’d have thought that, eh?). That’s what the best writing does, in my opinion. Even in a dry and distant text, the best writers use their empathy to create something evocative and moving.
I’ve been brooding over writing advice just lately. Some of it works for me, some of it doesn’t. It’s always an individual thing in any case. But what I think is that stories need to be narrowed down for them to work, at least for me. I learn more about the writer who can write like that, and so their work is more likely to hit me harder. Hmm. Empathy. There’s a thought there that I can’t quite articulate yet.
Narrow it down. Start broad. Start wide. Put in the background. Fill in the landscape. Add the buildings. Sketch out the trees. Apply your hand to the sky. Paint the clouds in. The ground. The light. Then the details of the larger elements. The architecture. The colours of nature. The bits that provide context. Get the broader picture in.
Then the bits that matter. The details. The human touches. The bits that tell the story. The tiny bits, the fragile little shadows and half-hinted at secrets. The people. Their form, their posture. The way they stand, how their hands are captured at a certain moment. The interplay between them. How they react to one another. What is written on their faces. What emotion is conveyed through their eyes. Where do they look, and why do they let their gaze fall there? Tell me why. Tell me why they matter. Narrow it down, with every word you deploy. Tell me why they matter. Tell me their story, and I will know yours.
Details, always details. Who, what, why, motivations, thoughts, feelings. The devil is in the detail. But then I must be in love with the devil because that is what I need.