Archives For big picture

The question says it all – are you a big picture person or a detail person? Which one comes more naturally to you?

I don’t know about you, but for me, it depends on where I am in the process. When I’m starting a project, I’m totally a big picture person. Planning a trip? I’m all about where we can go and when, comparing how much it will cost to drive or fly, thinking through all the options from the top down.

But once I’ve started a course of action, I love getting immersed in the details. I love spreadsheets and numbers and formulas. I love balancing my checkbook! LOL! If I find a discrepancy, I find it hard to stop until I’ve cleared it up. I can’t sleep if I’m in the middle of a Sudoku puzzle at bedtime.

I hate to admit it, but I’ve not been the best employee at times when I had to be able to go back and forth between the big picture and the details. I get so focused on details that I find it hard to pull back if there isn’t a lot of time.

On the other hand, I also hate to admit that I find it difficult to delegate to people unless I know they are detail-oriented. I tend to have high standards when it comes to details and I get cranky if people don’t follow through in the same way I would.

Okay, so there are some of the areas I’m weak in, but what am I good at? Which area am I best at? I’ve not read about the psychology of this topic, and I haven’t taken a test that I remember tested me in this area, but in my opinion I’m good at both. I think that’s what helps me to be a good writer. I start at the top with the big picture and work my way down to the details of writing and editing the book, even focusing in the end on punctuation.

What about you? Are you better at one than the other? How do you think that helps or hurts your writing? Let me know. I’m really curious about how other people think. :)


n my mind there are two Big Pictures when writing a novel. The Big Picture Before and the Big Picture After.

If I had to choose I’d say my favorite is the before. This is the daydreaming Big Picture when you get to doodle notes, follow new ideas, and go off on rabbit trails to see where they lead. This is the Big Picture that begins with a character who has been living in your head for weeks. You get to pluck that character out of your mind and drop him onto your notebook to see what he is going to do. (Kind of like how you create a “Mii.” You fiddle with the hair, nose, eyes, etc. then when you are done the Wii game spits him out to join the other characters and he bounces to life—my kids love doing that.)

The Big Picture Before is the easiest to write because there is relatively no pressure. A blank slate, endless possibilities. You can start with the basic plot-like questions and ask yourself:

What does my character want?
What does she really want (even if she doesn’t know it yet?)
What is stopping her from getting what she wants?

You can follow outlines like the Hero’s Journey or the Snowflake Method, or First Draft in 30 Days to help you get from beginning of story to end of story.

In the Big Picture Before you can easily play with different answers to these questions to see which sounds the most fun to write about. However! The key to the Big Picture Before is to spend some time looking at these possibilities and how they flow together. You can’t just pick random bad things to throw at your protagonist. They have to make sense—don’t just willy-nilly toss in a ninja attack, for example. (Think domino effect.) Even better, in the Big Picture Before you can change your mind without having to rewrite 100 pages to accommodate the change.

Which leads me to the Big Picture After. (Dun, dun, dun, dun…scary music.)

The Big Picture After is work. Lots of work. (If you don’t believe me read Jordan Rosenfeld’s post here about taking a plot inventory.) In the Big Picture After, you have to figure out if the movie playing in your head is the same movie that made it to the paper.

YOU know how the story plays out, but did you leave out the scene that reveals that the evil villain is really the hero’s separated-at-birth twin brother? Of course, if you are an outliner, you should have already accounted for every scene, right? That is, if you stuck to your outline.

The Big Picture After can also be fun. You’ve already written the thing! You’ve got your lump of clay formed. Now you just have to refine it. Sharpen some details. Make sure you didn’t leave off an arm

There is pressure, here, though. The Big Picture After is IT. This is your last chance to revise and revise before the story is told.

This month I’m working on my NaNo novel from ’07. This is the final edit I plan to give this baby before I tackle NaNo ’08. I didn’t outline it ahead of time so I am spending a lot of time in the Big Picture After trying to add more tension and highten conflict. I’ve revised it a number of times already, but decided to go ahead and take Jordan’s advice and do a plot inventory. I’ll let you know how it goes!


Every writer creates a story in a different way. Some create the characters first (or they spring forth from the head fully formed like that Greek goddess). Some start with a plot idea and plan extensively before writing a word. Others write scenes and journals and pages and pages before finally discovering the story. At some point, though, every author needs to nail down that big picture of the main story. That means determining the beginning and the ending, making sure the story actually goes somewhere, ending up with characters changed forever (or not).

This week we’re exploring how we approach that aspect of story-building.

I’m one of those writers that needs to have a good portion of the story written before I can really put the entire thing together. I write pages and pages of character interviews, stream-of-consciousness journaling about characters or plot and many, many scenes. I discover the story in the midst of all those words. I’m always thrilled when I discover another writer who works like me, like Cindy Martinusen Coloma. Last March she wrote a series about what she calls The Puzzle Method and posted it on Randy Ingermansan’s Advanced Fiction Writing blog. If you are like me, you might want to check it out. The first entry starts on March 5, 2008 and the series runs through March 24.

That’s one method for bringing order to the chaos of my initial creativity and guiding me toward completing a project. It’s not the only way, though. (I’m a “P” on the Myers-Briggs personality test and love to explore multiple options. We had a guest who blogged on personality tests, if you want to read that.)

Another way I try to find the story in all my written meanderings is to impose some structure over it. (This is probably the first step for you planners, but it comes in the middle for me.) I have two favorite structures, The Hero’s Journey and, more recently, the “beats” presented in Blake Snyder’s, “Save the Cat.”

After I’ve written a myriad of scenes and know my characters and have a general idea what they are doing and where they need to end, I segue into structuring the plot a little more concretely. (Since I like to keep my options open, nothing is ever really concrete, but at some point, if I want to finish with a story, I have to pin down some specifics.)

I do this by looking at which of my scenes best illustrate the “turning points” or “beats’ of the story. This process can take hours and hours as I play around with various options, but it can also be one of the most rewarding parts of creating a story. This is the time when the character’s story comes into sharper focus, when I see more clearly what defeats and triumphs will best reveal that story and sometimes even when I discover whose story I’m telling.

I keep track of all these scenes and where I want them in the story and any notes or insights I want to include using a great software called yWriter4. I wrote about how I use it and The Hero’s Journey in October. Basically, I create “chapters” for each point in the structure and place the different scenes within those chapters. Because it is so easy to drag and drop scenes from chapter to chapter, add notes and keep track of a myriad of details, this software has fast become my most favorite “toy.”

Whatever the structure you chose and whatever helps (toys) you find to form it, a crucial step in the process of creating a story is getting a clear “big picture” of it. For me that happens in the middle of the process, for you it might be the beginning. However you find or create it, I hope the blogs you read this week will help you refine and perfect the process.