In an article in The Writer, Todd James Pierce offered eight rules for writing historical short stories. One of them was that “small details matter more than large ones.” His example was about a story that led him to think he’d “need to know how the mechanics of animation worked in the 1940s and 1950s, the tasks of an inbetweener or an inker.” While acknowledging that “the information was useful,” he concluded that it wasn’t the “dreamy material” that leads to compelling stories. He discovered that the small details were more important: “the weight of a pencil in an animator’s hand when held the right way, how images ghost up through a stack of drawings when pegged onto a lightboard, the sound a moviola makes when a reel of new film stutters across its screen.” He used these “small daily details” to build a “believable historical setting.”
While I fully support his premise that the small details matter, I am convinced that his understanding of the larger world of the mechanics of animation in the 1940s and 1950s also informed his work, that knowing which small details to use may have been helped by knowing the broader subject matter thoroughly.
This brings me back to the issue of research, which I seem unable to leave (see previous couple of blog posts). How much is enough? How much is too much? (One comment on my last blog post suggested that while conducting research, it’s important to remember actually to write–a valid point.) I have found, however, that the small details that stand out in my own research and which I wish to use in my story only stand out because I know their importance from the larger context. I don’t disagree with Pierce, but I wonder how much his broader research into the period helped those small details jump off the research page as “musts” to include in his story. For his full article, see https://www.writermag.com/improve-your-writing/fiction/historical-short-stories/ It’s well worth a read.