Friday, May 21, 2010

Big Picture or Little Details

A few things lately have me lamenting my inability to focus on the little details in life.

At a workshop recently, I met a really interesting woman. When I returned to my group of friends, I told them about her and turned to point out this terrific woman in her pink top. We searched the room. No pink top. Everyone sat. No pink top. I totally turned out the next speaker becasue I couldn't believe I couldn't find her. She`d mentioned she was looking forward to the next workshop so I knew she hadn`t left.

I finally spotted her. I'd looked at her and past her several times. Hadn't recognized her. She was wearing a black top. Black. Not pink.

After that speaker I moved closer to her and realized her glasses were pink. Black top - pink glasses. Not exactly as illustrated :)

Of course my friends thought it was hilarious. I laughed too - life is too short not to laugh it up when you have the chance! But later I wondered how I had made the mistake. I hadn`t recognized her face several times, but I could tell you all about her life, her approach to teacher and even her parenting style.

I think it's another example of my global brain. I tend to look at the big picture in everything I do. I know instinctively when someone is having a tough time, the kids at school think my ability to understand them is kind of spooky. I know who will be friends, who won't get along. I know when they haven't eaten, when they don't understand a topic and when they need to let off steam or have a shoulder to lean on. I know when they`re going to blow and can almost always stop it.

How? Don't have a clue. When pressed I can come up with some body language cues but that's about it. I think my brain just absorbs the big picture and translates it for me.

On the flip side, don't ask me what anyone wore today. Don't ask me to notice a new haircut... or colour. Those are the little details the more linear brains seem to notice.

In my writing I do the same thing. I work from an emotional level. Anyone reading my stuff should get a good feel for the characters - should know them, should be able to anticipate their reactions. But they might be hard pressed to describe them. Because I don't. Hardly at all.

Although I'm fairly artsy, the visual details aren't always noticed and rarely make it into my writing.

What about you? Are you a 'big picture' or 'little detail' kind of writer?

On another note, I've got a few fine folks to thank.

Two terrific ladies, Charmaine Clancy at Wagging Tales and Laurel of Laurel`s Leaves, passed the Blogger Buddy Award my way. Did they know how pretty it would look on my blog?

The lovely Lydia Kang at The Word is My Oyster awarded me the Sweet Blogger Award. 

Please do yourself a favour and check out these awesome ladies and their wonderful blogs. You'll most definitely enjoy the visits :) 

Enjoy a fabulous long weekend everyone. At least everyone in Canada. Is it a long weekend anywhere else?

112 comments:

  1. I'm a bit like you. I usually have to go back and add in the visual details.

    Helen
    Straight From Hel

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  2. Helen - exactly! I have to force myself to think about the visuals and add them in too :)

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  3. Good post, Jemi.

    You have posed an interesting question. I think perhaps I'm a 'little detail' kinda person. Maybe even a nitpicker! Dear god!

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  4. Love your post, especially the part about not noticing the little thing. Me, I lost an earring today and didn't even notice it until I went to take them off. :) Seeing the big picture is good.

    Mason
    Thoughts in Progress

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  5. Wendy - lol :) A nitpicker are you? You've probably got some awesome details in your work then!

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  6. Mason - that's exactly the kind of thing I can do! Drives my husband completely nuts. He's very little detail oriented.

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  7. Jemi,
    Interesting question. I always say I let life wash over me and whatever I come away with is what I take with me, I leave the rest behind. However, I think in pictures as well. Not sure if this makes me a big picture or little picture type person. :) Have a great weekend!

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  8. Lisa - I love your description! I think this makes you a big picture person - at least if I'm reading you correctly! :)

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  9. Love you post. I'm a big picture person also.
    When I read a book I like to paint my own picture so if the characters aren't described I don't notice.
    I have a box of onesies in the earring department. LOL
    Maribeth
    Giggles and Guns

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  10. Maribeth - lol :) Maybe we should all pool our earrings and see what we come up with!!

    I like making my own pictures as well when I read - too much description always turns me off.

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  11. That IS spooky--but in a good way. You see people's hearts while others see the stain on their shirts. It's an admirable trait that even comes across in your blogging.

    Congrats on the awards and have a lovely, long weekend! (Here in Arizona, we're on a regular weekend--with high winds for company.)

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  12. Interesting post! I've never really thought about it the way you explained it, but that's exactly what I do. I tend to see the big picture when I'm writing but skimp on the details. It's a good thing those are fun to add in later :)

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  13. Great post! I think I'm a big picture type of writer, I do notice the details in real life, but not sure it applies to my writing. Hmmm, you've given me something to think about ;o)

    Have a great weekend!

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  14. I love that picture!

    I have a hard time seeing the details when life gets crazy. But school's out so now life is goooood!

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  15. It's something I've never thought about. I write what I want, perhaps when reading back I may alter a word or two.

    Congratulations on your award.
    well deserved.
    Yvonne.

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  16. I overlook lots of details too, but I think the bigger picture is more important anyway. My character descriptions are brief or non-existent, because it's not terribly important to me as a reader, and anyone who cares about those things can fill in the details with their imagination. Reading is more interactive than television for that very reason.
    Of course, I believe neither of us are qualified to replace Sherlock Holmes.

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  17. I was talking to my dad's girlfriend, a psychologist, and she says there are very few people who are big picture thinkers, but it's a great skill to have. Personally I'm a small details writer, which means I have trouble plotting sometimes. I also get sidetracked really easily! Great post. I love ones that really make you think.

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  18. I get fixated on small details and usually miss the big picture entirely - but then again I miss a lot of the small details because I'm fixated on just one or two things that have instantly caught my eye.
    I keep trying to work on this but I haven't had much success in changing what my brain likes to focus on.
    Congratulations on your awards.

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  19. Congrats on the awards!

    I think I'm a big picture, too. I get a sense of the person, but ask me five minutes later what they looked like and I'll have no idea!

    Have a great weekend!

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  20. OMG, you so described me. I know everything about a person, even people I meet after a long time, but new hair cut, increase/ decrease of weight..... even to save my life, I am not sure I can store any of those details

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  21. Small details! I complete ly identify with Claire from Modern Family! I wish I could be bigger picture.

    Great post :)

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  22. Congrats on your awrads, Jemi. Well deserved. It'll be a long holiday for us in the U.S. next weekend, Memorial Day weekend.

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  23. LOL, Jemi! I'm with you on the not noticing a new haircut or slight weight loss--I'm terrible with the subtle details (which shows in my writing, darn it. I'm working on this!). Same with names--I get the faces, know I've met them but can't remember names to save my life.

    I'd make a terrible witness.

    Have a great weekend!

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  24. I'm a big picture kinda gal, too, Jemi. With my memoir, I had to go back and add in specific details and descriptions. What a gift you are for your students, though, with your ability to understand them so well. They're lucky.
    Karen

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  25. Congratulations on the awards.
    I guess I'm an emotional writer - I have plans then I get involved with the characters and they take over!

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  26. I always add more details on the second draft.

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  27. Jackee - what a lovely way of expressing it! I'm going to remember that one - thank you :)

    Enjoy your weekend - high winds and all.

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  28. Cindy - I agree - thankfully we can go back in and add stuff! Otherwise it might be kind of drab :)

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  29. Erica - another big picture writer! I actually wasn't sure there would be too many of us. Enjoy the weekend :)

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  30. Stephanie - isn't that dog the best? :)

    You're out for the summer? I'm so jealous. We have another 5 or 6 weeks to go still! Crazy times are still going on.

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  31. Thanks Yvonne - that's exactly the way I've always written. It's only just recently that I've thought of trying to get something published. So now, I've got to look at it with different eyes. :)

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  32. Lorel - lol - yup Sherlock Holmes has nothing to worry about from me :)

    I agree - I like to fill in my own pictures when I'm reading too.

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  33. Rhiannon - that's really interesting. I know I tend to think and see things differently from my family and friends. They always find me a little bizarre :)

    Thanks for dropping by!

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  34. Thanks Cassandra - I'm just the opposite - I have to go back and nitpick at those details. I figure if I can see it, why can't everyone else? :)

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  35. Talli - yup that's me too. There's a school dress code about inappropriate t-shirt slogans and hats. I NEVER notice anyone wearing those things. The kids probably love it :)

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  36. Rayna - Me too! This probably explains why I don't recognize people's faces if I haven't seen them in a while. It can be really frustrating :)

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  37. Alexa - lol :)

    I think there are advantages with both ways of thinking. I know my hubby wishes I could see more of the details some of the time!

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  38. Harvee - Thanks! I always thought your Memorial Day & our Victoria Day were on the same weekend - both kind of kick off the summer I guess. Enjoy :)

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  39. Mary - Love it! I'd make a horrific witness too. "He was either tall or short, beard or clean shaven... but I could tell he was scared and desperate..." They'd just love us, wouldn't they? :)

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  40. A lovely post, Jemi and I really identified with it. I have real trouble recognising faces. It caused me a lot of anxiety when I was a teacher. When I'm reading I have trouble creating faces for other writers' characters. This means I often get in a muddle. When we're watching a film I'm continually asking Mr A. which character is which. It's so frustrating.

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  41. Karen - awwww - thanks! Seeing the big picture makes it easy, easy, easy to find the good stuff about the kids. I've been lucky enough to never teach a kid I didn't like. :)

    I need to go back in and add detail too. Fun though!

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  42. Michelle - yes! Mine too. They become so real, so important, it's hard to ignore them when they want to go in their own directions!

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  43. Aubrie - I agree - for me that's what the 2nd draft is all about! Thankfully we have the time :)

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  44. Rosalind - exactly! It's ridiculous how bad I am at recognizing faces. I always tell the kids I teach that I won't recognize them, so they'll have to talk to me first. Once I hear their voice it's easier, and when I have a name, it all clicks into place.

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  45. I'm big picture, but if I sit down and concentrate I can come up with small details. They don't come naturally at all, though. :)

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  46. LOL So they say that pink is the new black, so I guess you were just filling in the gaps!

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  47. Who needs details anyway? Seriously, you're picking up on the important stuff, it really doesn't matter what color someone's top is, but if a child needs help, that's important. As far as writing goes, I've heard less is more, the reader should be forming the picture in their head, not the writer telling them every detail. Sounds like you've got it right! I usually try to include at least one detail of every character, even those who only stick around to deliver one line, just because it makes me feel more grounded to do so, but I probably don't even need to do that.
    Congrats on your awards!

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  48. Elizabeth - that's the way my brain works too. I can see the details in my writing, just have to remember to iinclude them. :)

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  49. Karen - you're right! I like that take on it. I felt ridiculous not 'seeing' it at all! :)

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  50. Thanks Susan!

    Good to hear. I can add the details, it just doesn't come as naturally as I'd like it to. :) I'm glad 'less is more' is the current trend!

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  51. Jemi, What I read is that you have insight because you do see the big picture-a fine gift, for sure. When others critique my writing, I always get the same comment-that I'm very detailed! I am extemely analytical and can get too caught up in the detail. The details work well in research but not so much in fiction. I completely agree with Susan that the reader likes to add his/her own details too!

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  52. Lynn - thanks :)

    I guess we all need to find that happy balance. Maybe I could borrow some of your detail oriented brain for a bit???? :)

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  53. I'm a guy - we never notice details! I couldn't even tell you what I had for dinner last night.

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  54. Alex - great answer - you had me really laughing out loud! Love it :)

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  55. Hi Jemi,
    Love the photo of the dog with pink goggles. Does that make me a detail person because I noticed the dog's goggles are pink or that it was a dog--looks like a chihuahua (sp)?
    Funny story about your experience at the conference and great analysis about how you observe your students.
    Memorial Day weekend is next weekend for those of us who live in the USA.
    Hope you enjoy your long weekend up north.
    Donna
    http://donnadbookpub.blogspot.com

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  56. I thought women were supposed to be so observant. My wife notices everything. I'm like Alex I don't notice much in real life. But when writing I do tend to go for details a lot of the time.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  57. I think I'm like you, too. I'm usually more interested in the person inside than the one outside.
    There have been psychological experiments where people are shown an event and then asked what they saw--amazingly, they often disagree on the visual details.

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  58. Oh dear, I am a bit like you. Pink glasses, black top, it is all a blur but like you I recall details about people.
    Sort of funny!

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  59. Thanks Donna! I loved that photo of the dog too :)

    I think we're probably all a balance of both - just some of us are more out of balance than others. :)

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  60. Lee - I've never fit any of the normal profiles - I don't even like shopping! I'm not sure I'm supposed to admit that :)

    I do like some details of what things look like in books - just not much!

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  61. Tricia - well I'd fit right in on that survey! My mind is usually multi-tasking so I miss things... that sounds like a good excuse, right? :)

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  62. Terra - it is sort of funny! I can be unobservant about some things, but on the other hand I can draw & cartoon relatively well. Weird.

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  63. I'm probably half & half on that.
    And I love the doggie in the goggles!!!!

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  64. Big picture? Little Detail?

    Sometimes it depends on the circumstances. You were looking into the woman's eyes not her top.

    Now if she were Megan Fox, and I were talking to her, I might have remembered the color of her tight-fitting, low-cut top!

    Roland

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  65. Thanks Diane - he's a cute dog for sure :)

    I think half & half would be about perfect in this case. I'm striving for more balance on this one!

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  66. Roland - lol :) You probably would have at that!

    You're right - I was very focused on her and her face. Pink I remembered - just misplaced it a little!

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  67. I'm a big picture person, though a lot less perceptive than you are. I can't seem to remember the small, physical details about people, but do tend to remember their history, etc. :)

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  68. Sandy - I'm not sure about perceptive, but thanks :)

    The small physical stuff just don't make an impact on my brain - can't see them at all.

    I'm pretty good at remembering people's histories too. Not always, but pretty good.

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  69. I'd like to think that I'm a mix of what you described. Although I do take notice of little details (hello, Virgo here! heh) I try to focus on the big picture too as much as possible.

    I'm very sensitive to the mood and needs of other people, and I try to translate this in my writing.

    I like detailed descriptions (like Tolkien's) but I like as much a writing with minimal description and speedy reading.

    Am I contradictory? Maybe, but one thing I know I am is visual. Maybe that's because of my visual memory that I'd notice the pink/black top/glasses while you skipped this information.

    Do you know where your memory's strength is? That is, are you visual, tactile, etc? This might help clarifying how your brain works. I think you're curious about it as much as I am, heh. :)

    Great post Jemi, as usual! And congrats on even more awards. You certainly deserve all of them. :D

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  70. Thanks so much Mari!

    From the reading/studying I've done, I'm mostly a tactile learner, with strong visual tendencies. I'm also mostly right brained, but can access my parents' super linear left brains as needed. :)

    So I'm pretty all over the place! I do find the brain and learning styles and multiple intelligences so interesting. I do quite a bit of it with my students - fun stuff!

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  71. Congrats on the awards. :)

    I tend to be a visual person. I think it was all the years of studying art and visual media that did it. Although sometimes I do miss things too.:)

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  72. Thanks Lindsay :)

    I would have enjoyed studying those subjects! Art tells so much about a person and a culture. I bet you're probably detail oriented.

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  73. Well, I am not a writer -- but I am a very "visual" person :-)

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  74. Agnes - you certainly are! The photos you post on your blog are incredible! You definitely have the eye :)

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  75. Congratulations on the wonderful awards!

    I think it's hilarious that you missed the color of the top, however I think it's great what you do notice vs. what you don't! I think it depends on my mood, at times I notice the bigger picture and in others I notice the smaller things, lol.

    My husband says I'm not very observant but I'll say that I just don't observe what he'd like!!

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  76. Such an interesting question. I'm super-visual and emotional at the same time, but I think I struggle more with the inserting of emotions into our writing--sometimes that's just hard to describe for me. Congrats on the awards!

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  77. I think I fall into the "little detail" category. I'm good with names, faces, and small details. Even when I'm outlining for a novel, I create the small details for my characters.

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  78. Jen - thanks!

    I know - I felt so ridiculous about the whole colour thing - but it was funny! :)

    I love your response to your hubby - I'm going to have to borrow that one!

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  79. Thanks Lisa/Laura!

    I think everything I write is form an emotional standpoint. It's the way I live my life too. :)

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  80. Medeia - sounds like I could use some of your brain power! I never outline anything and I don't create a character trait list. Too global :)

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  81. Both. I start with the big picture, then research individual scenes like crazy and focus on concise details. I try not to drone on and on regarding details, but they have to be there, especially when describing a city and real establishments.

    Stephen Tremp

    Stephen Tremp

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  82. Stephen - that sounds like a good plan. Research is so important - as is consistency. I tend to do the bulk of my research before I start to write, then double check facts etc as I go.

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  83. I can't tell you what I'M wearing most of the time, so I must have the global affliction squared.

    One thing, however, that I am able to fixate on are those pink goggles your pup is wearing. I crave a pair of those and then it won't matter what anyone is wearing, will it? :-)

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  84. C Lee - that's hysterical!

    Those goggles are the best! You would look dashing with a pair! :)

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  85. Fun questions! I'm both. I shoot from the hip with the emotions I want the characters want to communicate and absolutely get anal retentive about the scene I'm painting. New project is going slooooow.... ;) Cool to find out more about your style, Jemi!

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  86. Good question! I like to think I'm a little bit of both. Sometimes the details illustrate the big picture better than anything else.

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  87. That is so funny! I do stuff like that all the time. But honestly, I have no idea if I'm a big or little picture kind of person. I often notice really odd details about people, and remember bizarre things, but then, I have a tendency to size people up pretty well. So who know? But, I can forget certain details altogether. I think it's more like selective memory for me. I just remember what I think is important.

    Congrats on your awards, Jemi!!

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  88. Kimberly - sounds like fun! I bet your descriptions sparkle when you're done! Hopefully the speed picks up for you!

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  89. Lisa Gail - so true. I remember once reading a scene about a scuzzy motel room. The only thing described was a stain - and because it was so well done, the rest of the room was clear in my head. It doesn't take much!

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  90. Thanks Carol!

    Interesting point - it does seem to be a case of focusing on the important, doesn't it. One little detail can tell you all you need to know about a person or a setting. Great point!

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  91. I find it so interesting to see that certain traits really do cause small personality quirks. Like you, I have the abiltiy to "see" those same things about people. I also am a big picture kinda girl in my writing.

    I never would have connected the two, I don't think.

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  92. Tara - it really is interesting to find out how writers approach everything so differently. Detail oriented people amaze me. Although I really do like being able to see that big picture :)

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  93. congrats on your award!

    I try hard to make my reader feel like they really understand what my characters are going through. But I can't help but give a few clues to how they look!

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  94. Thanks Lydia :)

    I like knowing the characters from an emotional standpoint. For me that's the most important part.

    I'm not even sure I mention hair colour or style in the ms at all. I do mention size because it's important. I may have to do a bit of adding :)

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  95. I think the overall impression is more important than the details. You could always change the details later (pink top/black top), but the idea that she was interesting is what matters. That's the piece you have to remember...

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  96. Wow, Jemi, I am literally astounded. You and I are soooo much alike--I can get feel of people by just looking at them and know what they are feeling for the most part by just looking at them. When I write, I'm the same way as you--I am very deep into my MCs emotions. As far as their detailed appearances, I do that, too...

    Interesting that you should write about this, I'd never thought of it before!

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  97. I think it's good that you don't focus as much on the visual details. When I'm reading, I often feel frustrated when authors go on and on about physical appearances because they don't seem to matter much. I'll just view them the way I do in my head, and I would rather get to know the real them. Funny story though :)

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  98. Jemi,

    I laughed out loud at this post. I am so much like you it's scary. Some days I don't remember what I'm wearing, let alone what someone else put on.

    It takes all kinds of people--as both readers and writers. Don't lament the nitpicky stuff. I don't need details to enjoy the emotional impact of a great novel. And I'm willing to bet I'm not the only one.

    hugs~ cat

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  99. Anne - sounds good, Anne! I do approach my writing the same way. I'm about to do a revision solely based on checking out the descriptions - or lack thereof :)

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  100. Elizabeth - thanks - I'm glad I got you thinking :)

    It is really all about the emotion for me - all the other stuff is important, but secondary. So I have to go back in and maybe flesh it out a bit.

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  101. Thanks Tiana - funny, but kinda sad too :)

    I'm the same when I'm reading. I hate getting bogged down in too many details that, to me, aren't important.

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  102. Thanks Cat!

    I really do find the story all about the emotion. I'll go along for the ride with a good plot, cool story line, but if a book is to have impace on me, it's gotta have those strong emotions. :)

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  103. Oooh, good questions. I think I'm more of a big picture writer at first and then I beef it up with finer details the more I edit.

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  104. congratulations on your awards...I tend to forget names as soon as I meet someone...wish that weren't so...great post Jemi!

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  105. Jemi,

    It sounds to me like you're an extremely intuitive person. Perfect trait for working with children.
    -S

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  106. Jennifer - that's what I'm trying to do. I'm just going to start another round of revisions looking only at descriptions :)

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  107. Shannon - me too! I'm really, really bad at names.

    It's ridiculous! As a teacher I should be able to remember all of their names :)

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  108. Thanks Shannon - I hope so. I do love my students - and they seem to have fun as well :)

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  109. Omg, I think I'm a big picture person too. I'm terrible with faces/names/descriptions, but I can recall almost word for word what the conversation I had with someone was about, or if I read something, I can recall it. I'm the one my coworkers turn to for a resource because I good at recalling written info. Don't ask me to describe a person though. ;-)

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  110. Mary - I'm the same with the reading. I remember studying for tests in university - I'd be able to close my eyes and bring up the page section. Once I 'saw' the page - I knew the answers :)

    Yet I can't remember the faces of any of my univeristy classmates and professors. *sigh*

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  111. I am so like you. Details pass me by. It's a problem I have in my writing too. I don't really see places or people, just characteristics.

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  112. Tamara - I'm so grateful I wrote this post - it's so reassuring to hear I'm not completely alone in this!! :)

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