Writing: Don’t Focus on the Little Things First

big pictureWhether we are critiquing someone else’s writing or working on our own, I’m often surprised at how often we focus on the small stuff.  “You don’t need this comma.”  “Use powder instead of talc.” “How should I format my header?”  “Firefly or lightening bug?”

We let these small issues bring us to a halt but never focus on the big issues.  What do I mean by big issues?

Does our opening scene somehow reflect the larger issues at stake in the story?  Instead of coming up with an opening that represents the larger story in some meaningful way, we start with something big and action packed.  That’s fine if you’ve written an action/adventure and a chase features later in the story, but it if doesn’t come up with a better beginning.

Are our characters truly three dimensional?  Even if our characters aren’t cardboard, they often aren’t as deep as they could be because we never go beyond the typical.  Instead of focusing on obvious emotions, we should dig down deeper.  Instead of leaving room for subtext, we hash everything out in dialogue.

Do our subplots mirror the plot in any meaningful way? Too often our subplots involve different themes than the main plot.  Instead, we should use them to stregthen the main theme, exploring a different facet or reinforcing the main plot in a meaningful way.

Is the setting a character?  Instead of developing our story so that it could only take place in one particular time and place, we set it generically in the “Midwest” in the “1980s.”  Get specific and bring your reader there.


Before you focus on issues of grammar or word choice, make sure that you’ve smoothed out any “big picture problems.”  After you’ve done that, you’ll have time to fiddle with word choice and proof reading.


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