The Scale of Your Story


The scale of our fiction is something that we don’t always consider consciously. A murder mystery can take place in a small town, like Twin Peaks, or it can be an international conspiracy like many James Bond films. Consider Lord of the Rings, the scope or scale of the story is world spanning. They are literally travelling to the ends of Middle-Earth.

That’s a big damn deal for most writers. To create viable (plausible) regional cultures and the like, it takes time, research and a whole lot of study. We’re talking about languages, governments, religions, mythologies, established technology levels, migration patterns, ethnic variations. I mean, it’s a big challenge.

When you consider a story like Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings, you can clearly see that the author has taken great pains to make sure there’s a history, prehistory and future for these settings. Stories don’t happen in void – but it’s up to the author if they happen in a single room, a hotel, a city, a country, a planet or beyond.

Small Scale Stories

Short stories tend to happen in the small scale – slices of life or bits of events, from character we won’t ever meet again. In this instance the details of your fictional moment are just that – momentary. The temperature of the air, the dampness in a subway tunnel, a sudden burst of wind. There are all things that come from the instant of the story.

Recently I’ve been reading about Japan – a series of books by Richard Parks. They’re sort of a supernatural Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson set in medieval, feudal Japan. They’re very good – even if you’re not an expert on the superstitions of 14th century Japan. I mention them here because the scale is very small. Because Japan in very small. Yet each story seems to have enough detail, travel and adventure, to be interesting. To expand beyond what is typically a “short story setting.”

The scale of Japan might necessitate this. It’s tiny set of islands with, what must have been a limited population and minimal travel between cities and towns.

More conventionally, Hills Like White Elephants, by Hemmingway, is a slice of life short story with a small scale as well, though the characters are travelling. So, in this case, any scale travel, from A to B, can be made to seem contained, smaller.

Large Scale Stories

On the extreme opposite end, we have space opera – the galaxy(ies) spanning tale of adventure. Dune, Star Wars, Star Trek, these are all pretty good examples. As a writer, if your characters are stopping on a world that’s populated for any length of time, the problem of detail and plausibility arises again.

How much research and planning is enough? You’ve go to make it believable. So, consider your scale, while plotting your novel or story project. It can save you a lot of head aches later.