I credit a great amount of my inspiration to pursue writing in a more serious manner to a TED Talk I watched in my junior year of high school. Olivia Gatwood, one of my favorite writers then and now, stands on the stage and presents “We find each other in the details”, a discussion about the relatability of stories within poems or any body of work. She shares, “Time and time again, I learned, both through my own writing and through the writing of others, that it’s not the big stories that reach millions, it’s the tiny ones.”
There was something so poignant about this single sentence that changed the way I looked at writing forever. As dramatic of a statement as that is, I think it’s very easy to understand writing in a very singular way. We write what we know and we compensate for what we don’t through imagined details with creative characters and settings. Often, at least in my experience, I forget how much value there is in using the small, seemingly mundane details of my own life as tools to bolster my narrative. Maybe it’s because I live in my shoes everyday and most mornings would call it quite boring, seeing the same people and places daily. But, it’s in these little monotonies that so many people can see the real, relatable bits of humanity within a good story.
This isn’t to say the big things don’t matter – they most certainly do. The colossal structures and spaceships that span the length of a small town. But, in looking back at many of my favorite books that existed in massive, dreamy universes outside the scope of reality, I realized that so much of my connection with these books revolved around the tiny quirks that existed in these big worlds. It’s so exciting to watch cities we’ve never seen before come to life on the page, but it might not be nearly as exciting if it weren’t for the smaller experiences and charms of the characters that bring you into the story and make it feel more livable. Harry Potter studying at a school for wizards is in no way relatable to us mere mortals. But Harry Potter studying at a school for wizards where he gets caught sneaking around the halls after-hours is a much more accessible storyline that helps one enter the novel while still maintaining the mythical whimsy of the magical setting.
Applying this idea to your writing isn’t difficult at all when you realize how much of your own life-experience you can insert to make a character or scene more relatable. It doesn’t have to be big. In fact, sometimes the smaller the better! Give your main character’s favorite pair of shorts a missing button or make her have a never ending sunburn no matter how many times she reapplies her sunscreen. Make your sidekick prone to accidentally swallowing his gum or give a character a fleeting, embarrassing voice-crack in front of the whole class. These quirks breathe a fresh sense of humanity into a story, no matter how vast and magical your universe is and they help fill the space with even more wonder!