What’s This All About?
Things. Or as my former poetry professor often put it: thingyness. The material, concrete, details that we as writers are always bashed for telling instead of showing.
You see when I took my two year hiatus, I went on a long metaphorical writer’s journey, and on that journey I was (and I arguably still am) so fixated on vivid details. And that fixation with details taught me something pretty important about writing: Don’t forget the small things.
For those of us who write fantasy/sci-fi and those huge imaginative genres that require large worlds especially, I feel like there’s the tendency to focus so much on making settings and culture that seem so grandiose, larger than life, and made to wow people that we forget that stories are about people (or creatures with people-like wants). And really the stuff that creates meaning is not all the bright flashy world building, but the more subtle things like a marriage ring, a favorite necklace, worn out sneakers, or even the funky way a character might thumb a wet dish before he sets it in the dish rack.
Some might wonder, why fuss over small details like that? After all, that’s not what the story is about. I agree that small details for small details sake is trivial, but in reality small details are only trivial if a writer doesn’t make full use of them.
A good example of this is in the historical K-drama that I watch called The Great Queen Seon Deok and the TLDR for that is that it’s basically about how a princess who was taken away from Korea (then Silla of the Three Kingdoms period) and then she later becomes the first female ruler for Silla. But where we are focusing in the drama is King Jinheung’s dagger.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any good pictures of the dagger itself so bear with me, but the dagger is used all throughout the series so far. Initially, it was used by the old King Jinheung to kill a tiger that had bitten him by the arm. Then later his grandson King Jinpyeong gives it to his wife because he believes it will keep her safe, and when she gets kidnapped and thrown into the ocean, it does because it helps her cut her ropes. The dagger gets sent away with baby Deokman when she and the maid run from the Hwarang that are after her. Then even later it’s given a cameo in a painting by Mishil, the villain, who is telling the story of the protagonist. And ultimately, it’s the dagger that proves that Deokman really is the long lost princess that the king sends away. And so on and so forth… But the point I’m really trying to make here is if you going to use clues, items, motifs, or what have you then use them thoroughly.
Something that I’ve started to realize is that if you’re going to use an element, an object, a setting, a character or what have you, use them as much as possible, if you can. When you do this, you give that one element more depth each and it also opens up opportunity to tie up loose plot holes that you might be stuck on. And most importantly, if that detail is linked to a character, it gives an opportunity to show more about them. And always capitalize on every opportunity to show character if you can do so without hurting the story!
In my dagger example, not only does it show a little more depth about the character King Jinheung, but it also sets up some symbolism with the story of the King Jinheung and the tiger becoming a parallel for the struggle between Deokman and Mishil for the throne, but on top of that it’s used as a plot device too which goes to show the potential of one tiny story object. Never underestimate them.
But unfortunately, I must be going. Keep on writing!