WFMAD Day 4 – Think Big, Write Small, pt. 2

This month, I’ll steer back and forth between discussions of pure craft (like today’s prompt) and discussions of confronting things like writer’s block (see yesterday’s post). I know that you are all in different places in your work, and you have very different needs. We will find a way to tackle your issues, never fear!

photo credit Dana Lookado, Creative Commons license

The most important thing is the easiest: write for fifteen minutes today and tomorrow and for about 27 days after that. Many of this year’s participants are teachers, some of whom are already headed back into the classroom. KEEP WRITING!! You only have to do it for fifteen minutes a day until the end of the month. Think of how much you are learning about writing that you can share with your students!

Back to Think Big, Write Small. ::adjusts glasses::

When writing a novel or novel-length piece of work, you need to keep one eye on the Big Picture; the grand arcs of your story, whilst keeping the other one on the smallest possible details that will allow each scene to carry the strongest impact possible.

This can give you a headache.

I sketched out my notion of the Big Picture on Tuesday. Today we focus on WRITING SMALL. Pick up a book that you adore and flip to a memorable scene. I’ll bet you a cheeseburger that the author made very deliberate choices in the details she used. (If you want, go through and highlight some of these choices.) These little decisions; the fabric of a character’s skirt, the memorabilia on a dusty shelf, what she puts on her salad, her choice of taking a taxi or the subway – they all serve a number of purposes. Details given nuance to a story, they help the reader experience the world of the characters, they move the plot forward and they can give insight into a character.

That’s a lot a work for small tidbits of information!

Ready… “As great scientists have said and as all children know, it is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, and compassion, and hope.” Ursula LeGuin

Set…Find a place to write where you are guaranteed you will not be interrupted for your fifteen minutes. Lock yourself in the car, hide in the bathroom, put on a disguise, find a new coffee shop, and sit with your back to the rest of the world. By any means necessary, carve out your fifteen minutes and protect them with your life.

Today’s prompt: Choose one of the following.

1. Take a chapter from a favorite book. Identify which details are mission-critical. Rewrite a couple paragraphs and change the details to the point where it impacts the rest of the book. If you have a Work in Progress (WIP), you can do this to one of your own chapters.

2. Write a rough draft of a scene set in a middle-school cafeteria. Have your character go through the lunchline. The kid in front of her is mean and nasty. The kid behind her is much kinder, but is afraid to show it, for fear of bringing the wrath of the bully down on her head. Brainstorm the Write Small details you could use in a scene like this to set the scene, move the plot forward and give us a sense of who the main character is.

Scribble… Scribble… Scribble!

5 Replies to “WFMAD Day 4 – Think Big, Write Small, pt. 2”

  1. I kind went my own way with my scene today, but I kept the details in mind as they related to the bigger picture. I ended up with a scene and characters that I’m pretty excited about.

    It’s funny, some days the writing seems to happen so slowly and on other days I move fast. Weird. Today was a slow day, but productive nonetheless!

  2. I belong to a small writer’s forum called Scribalings. (Google it and it’s the first thing that pops up.) We started a WFMAD thread over there. Thought you might like to know!

  3. I needed to find a new zip code yesterday in order to write. So, I wrote about the frustrations, too. All these feelings are what my character feels, too. It’s universal to feel frustration with well intended interruptions and shattered silence. Today will be better.

    On the road!

  4. Hey Laurie — sorry to post off-topic today, but I was reading one of my favorite books and came across this quote that made me think of you and your anti-censorship work:

    “Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.”

    Who said it? Fred Rogers. Yes, Mr. Rogers — exactly the sort of person that many book banner might champion for wholesomeness. But he knew the world was complicated and that talking about it in all its complexity was the key to it all.

    Feel free to delete this post from your blog after you’ve read it. I don’t want to interfere with the very good work of 15 minutes a day that is going on here! (yeesh. That reminds me, I need to get in my 15 before the day’s events take over!)

  5. Dear Laurie, We have met several times at conferences and when you came to Cortland some years ago. I’m the Syracuse long-time h.s. teacher who is now coordinator of the English Education program at SUNY Cortland. The last time I saw you (probably NYSEC) I asked if you would skype with my YA Lit class re: one of your novels. I am going to include one (probably WINTERGIRLS) in the fall syllabus and I would be so grateful if we could set up a skype call. It’s a big group this fall and I’m looking forward to the class immensely. We meet on T/TH afternoons starting at 2:50 for 45 minutes.

    My grad class skyped with Joe Bruchac and Jame Richards in spring. And these face to face conversations were the high point of the semester. My undergrads will be gaga if I can tell them at start of class we’re going to talk with you.

    Would you please give me your direct contact so that I can ask you about this off the blog.

    Please reach me at

    Thank you so much for responding to my plea! I’ve been a fan/reader for a long time and especially love CHAINS/FORGE so I may change my mind about WINTERGIRLS. I’m still working on the syllabus.

    You’ll be happy to know that 2 of my strongest former grad students both recommended by me have positions in the Eng. Dept. at FM. They’re big fans there too as you know.

    Karen Stearns
    Syracuse, NY (live on the east side by LeMoyne College)

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