There are some interesting studies out there about how we humans think, and it is interesting to learn that some of us are naturally stronger and more skilled in the ‘detail’ while others are able to stand back more easily and see the bigger, broader picture. I’ve been doing a lot of consulting and teaching lately and have had the opportunity to observe how these different modes affect one’s ability to create, write and also pitch a great story.
If I’m honest, my personality type – and probably my comfort zone too – lies firmly planted in the ‘detail’. I spend hours getting to know what brand of toothpaste my characters would use and spend twice as long trying to choreograph a passing moment in a scene or trying to find the most perfect three lines of dialogue. But over the years I have also consciously trained myself to be able to pull back and see the bigger picture, and I realise that the combination of these abilities is what allows a writer to succeed.
In order for a story to have depth and emotion, comedy and heart, a writer needs to focus on the intricate (and often intimate) details of a moment or scene. It’s the details that create the tone and style and the details that make us love your characters and enjoy the journey we are about to share with them. It’s the details that make us laugh or cry. But details alone are not enough – without the bigger picture, we as an audience or reader are often left either confused or bored.
A successful writer must also be able to step back and create a story with a clear beginning, middle and end. A story that is simple enough and strong enough to be fully captured in a paragraph or a 45-second pitch. A story that hooks us and keeps us hooked from beginning to end. A story that we clearly follow. This important skill is what provides the blueprint and arc of your story, and without having to spend our mental energy trying to figure out what’s going on, we are free to experience the journey you have spent so long creating.
Without details, a story is superficial, flat and unimaginative. Without details, there isn’t enough interesting ‘stuff’ that makes us truly enjoy the ride. But without a simple, strong and clear story arc, we either don’t buy a ticket, or we can’t wait to get off the train.
So in answer to the question, “Are you a detail or big picture person?”, my advice to you is, "Become both!".
Image: Inara Prusakova / shutterstock.com