It’s summer, and for many of us that means going to see summer blockbuster movies. You know—the kind you pretty much have to see on the big screen because stuff blows up. I’ve been to Guardians of the Galaxy 2 already. I’m a big fan of epic stories with villains who threaten the entire world, or even the entire universe. Star Wars. Lord of the Rings. Game of Thrones. Right now I’m watching American Gods.
But here’s the thing. What really makes these tales great, what elevates them beyond just of a bunch of stuff exploding or hordes engaged in battle, are the small stories. The personal ones. It’s Peter Quill and Luke Skywalker and Tyrion Lannister having daddy issues. It’s the friendship between Frodo and Samwise (c’mon—I ship it; don’t you?). It’s Shadow Moon mourning his wife (even if she still visits him now and then) and finding his place in the world. Lots of stuff exploded in The Force Awakens, but what was the scene that made me tear up? When a certain favorite character was stabbed to death by his relative. (Wow. More daddy issues!) That moment had far more emotional resonance than anything done with light sabers and CGI.
My point here is that the Big Story is grand; it’s spectacular, dazzling. But it’s hollow without the small story. The small story is the heart of the tale. It’s what makes us care.
Most of what I write is romance, and that means the small story is always prominent. Some of my books have serial killers or evil wizards. I have one releasing this fall that involves mobster vampires in Vegas. But the core of the book is always the relationship between the protagonists. When you think about it, love is a very small story. It involves just two people (well, unless you have a polyamorous tale, yet even then, the circle is small). But it keeps us engaged and makes the big things important.
I’ve taken my older daughter some pretty exciting places: Barcelona. London. Venice. Vienna. Hawaii. Alaska. She’s been on cruises to Mexico and the Bahamas and spent a semester living with me in Croatia. These are Big Story travels. But right now she and I are in the middle of a 4000-mile road trip through places like Nebraska, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming, enjoying ourselves before she moves away for college. She began the trip with a fair dose of skepticism. What I hope she learns along the way is that there’s just as much value in these small story locations like Lincoln, Alliance (home of Carhenge!), and Spokane. Even when we’ve gone to Big Story places, the highlights of those trips have often involved small story moments, like sitting at a café outside the Dubrovnik city wall, watching ships pass by; observing a balloon seller get stuck while trying to walk down a narrow passageway in the Roman palace at Split; catching a gaggle of Mozart impersonators in Vienna taking a cigarette break. I visited Paris for the first time a few years ago. We went to the Eiffel Tower, but that memory is like a snapshot for me. The memory that’s in 3D with surround sound was being the only woman (other than the owners) in a Le Marais restaurant with a friend, having a pleasant conversation in my terrible French with the couple sitting next to us.
I’m writing this for two reasons. First, I hope we can all take some time to appreciate the small stories, both in the books we read and in our lives. And second, well, a whole lot of us are pretty overwhelmed right now by some bad Big Stories. It’s pretty hard to ignore those stories. They’re affecting us all. Perhaps, though, we can focus a bit on some of the small stories that are also happening. I think we can find some hope there. I think we can find some heart.
Do you have a small story to share? Please do!
Kim Fielding is the bestselling author of numerous m/m romance novels, novellas, and short stories. Like Kim herself, her work is eclectic, spanning genres such as contemporary, fantasy, paranormal, and historical. Her stories are set in alternate worlds, in 15th century Bosnia, in modern-day Oregon. Her heroes are hipster architect werewolves, housekeepers, maimed giants, and conflicted graduate students. They’re usually flawed, they often encounter terrible obstacles, but they always find love.
After having migrated back and forth across the western two-thirds of the United States, Kim calls the boring part of California home. She lives there with her husband, her two daughters, and her day job as a university professor, but escapes as often as possible via car, train, plane, or boat. This may explain why her characters often seem to be in transit as well. She dreams of traveling and writing full-time.
A complete list of Kim’s books: http://www.kfieldingwrites.com/kim-fieldings-books/