The Edge of Detail and Mythmaking

I had an interesting thought yesterday, a thought regarding the things that awaken skills and knowledge in human beings.

You see, I was reading some fiction and I wondered why this writer had delivered so little detail. Then it occurred to me one reason I may have an edge over some other writers when it comes to writing details instinctively.

I am a huge fan of the comic strip Calvin and Hobbes, and when I was a child my parents kept getting us collections of the old strips, including one featuring commentary by its creator, Bill Watterson. Watterson voiced strong views on the way newspaper comics were going (And have since gone), and his opinions are more interesting to me as an adult writer than they were to me as a kid. But I remember reading many of the short commentaries when I was quite young. One of those concerned specificity in humor.

Watterson made Calvin’s dad a patent attorney because he believed specifics are always funnier than generalities.

Over time I grew to realize that the rule of specificity doesn’t apply only to humor. It applies to all fiction to one an extent or another. Speaking in overly general terms makes a story feel less real. Glossing over details in prose removes information, and unless the story is extraordinarily complicated in other ways, it can leave a book feeling like a film, due to having less dense story information.

But my point is this: I first read that Watterson line ten to fifteen years ago, probably more. I have never forgotten it, but I did not learn to use that particular principle for much longer. For one thing, I wasn’t writing when I first read it. For another, I often need to hear a concept multiple different ways for it to sink in on me. But reading that one early gave me an edge on learning it eventually.

This kind of edge has proved useful to me in multiple ways. I learned to love mythology building not only from reading Greek Mythology and the Hobbit as a kid, but also from the Warhammer 40,000 books of the time. I suppose this all goes to show how important it is for children to be fascinated and engaged with what they learn. Some of the things I read in Codex Ultramarines from second edition Warhammer 40,000 I still remember, and they’ve formed a basis for understanding other mythos as I cross paths with them.

At the time I couldn’t have told you why I liked them accurately, or why they’d be important to me in the future. Mythology building devoured my teens as I started writing. And I wouldn’t want to lose that, especially now, knowing that it is not only why I loved mythology, but also why I grew more skillful at creating it.

I’ve heard some older individuals (Paul E. Cooley, Justin Macumber) worrying about how children experience the world these days, and I can’t speak for children born in the last five or ten years, but as someone who is still young, I’d say videogames aren’t so tempting for everyone that they destroy our desire to build our own myths. I’ve been obsessed with games in the past, but never have they quashed my creativity. How does that make you feel Mister Cooley, Mister Macumber?

Well, I’ve enjoyed writing this post, though it appears to have shapeshifted in the process. No harm in that, but I hope you all can follow the thought process behind it.

Enjoy your day as well as you can!

* * *

Thought for the day: Joy comes from inside each person who feels it.

Animal of the day: Tortoise
Because even life isn’t a race, but the slow and steady can outlast those that live fast.

Yesterday’s Words:
“Am I supposed to be impressed?” Dara said. “Big strong man, pounding a bulkhead?”
Mosam grunted as Yajain approached the door. “I don’t care if I impress you, Doctor Merrant.”
Yajain pressed her back to the wall. Vertigo struck her. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited in the chill.
Mosam pressed a hand to the door with a clank. “I’m going to check on her.”
“Not without me you won’t.”

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