Monday, December 5, 2011

Size Does Matter—At Least, When It Comes to Writing 

As I was making pancakes over the weekend, I remembered something from when I was a kid. Many years ago, while my mom was making me pancakes, a drop of batter fell into the skillet, making a teeny pancake the size of a fingernail. My mom put it on my plate as a joke. I thought that miniscule flapjack was adorable. (OK I admit I’m weird, but I remember playing with the pancake all day.) We really weren’t too poor for toys that I had to play with food, but the size of the pancake entranced me!

Who says size doesn't matter?

The With the holidays in full swing, that little pancake got me to thinking about how just the size of something can make it appealing. (Cue the off-color jokes.) Ever been to Las Vegas during the holidays or seen the decorations in Rockefeller Center? They decorate with enormous ornaments. They take common Christmas objects and explode them in size. How about a life-size Nativity scene?

Another technique for enchanting is to take an item and shrink it. My kids, when they were little, loved playing with Micro-Machines and Quints (teeny quintuplet baby dolls). You may remember Liddle Kiddles if you grew up in the 60s and 70s—another set of micro dolls.

Honey, I shrunk the focus

Shrinking or enlarging something can also aid your writing. One effective technique is to dramatize a large, pivotal scene by focusing on a small part. In my writing classes, I often cited Wally Lamb’s hit novel of the 90s, She’s Come Undone. In the book, there is a rape scene of the main character, Dolores Price, which is a key turning point in the book. Instead of relating every gory detail, Lamb drives home Dolores’s distress by describing how she just keeps digging her nails into the dirt while being assaulted.

Anybody see my strawberries?

Enlarging something very small is also a great device—especially for revealing a character’s nature. Who can ever forget Captain Queeg’s outsized concern for the quart of strawberries in the classic The Caine Mutiny?

So if you have a scene which seems a bit sickly or weak perhaps, a dose of Viagra or that Miracle Reducing Pill might just be the prescription for what ails your writing.


  1. I give my daughter the tiny accidental pancakes too. I think I love them more than she does these days, for the memory of how much she loved them when she was little.

    I really enjoy writing which plays with focus. I also appreciate it when the writer makes us see something only out of the corner of the eye. That glimpse can be so powerful.

  2. Hi Sarah:

    So I'm not alone in my tiny pancake obsession! I agree that playing with the focus can greatly enhance your writing.

    Thanks for dropping by.