Last Thursday I stepped on a shard of glass as I worked in the kitchen in bare feet. The little culprit was only about a 1/2 inch long and maybe an 1/8 inch wide, but when it penetrated my foot, I let out a yelp and then an expletive. My first instinct was to pull out the intruder and check the damage. When it didn’t appear to be too bad, I hobbled into the living room and whined to my husband about what had just happened. “Where did that come from? I don’t remember breaking a glass during the last year!”
I sat down on my chair and began to write, thinking no more of the unexpected “attack” in the kitchen. But, the cut turned out to be a puncture wound and before long the blood pooled under my foot and into the carpet. As you might imagine, I was flabbergasted such a little cut could bleed so much! To take care of myself, I had to walk to the bathroom to get the Neosporin and a band-aid, leaving bloody footprints down the hallway. Great! Now I had to clean up that mess, too.
Little did I know that this stinking cut would cause me to hobble around all weekend. My foot was so sore, I had to limp on the side of my foot to get around, and I was pretty much grounded for the next few days. The pain and inconvenience of this tiny wound got me thinking about details in a story–how one small, seemingly insignificant detail can turn a plot on its head. How a minor occurrence can change a character’s life and take you and your reader down a completely new trail. If stepping on a dinky shard of glass did this to me, imagine what a small detail can do in a story! Then I remembered when I was interviewing people for stories when I was writing for a business magazine. It wasn’t uncommon to hear, “I don’t know if this is important, but . . .” and invariably what they saw as insignificant would become the focus of the piece.
A minor event can change the course of what happens to characters and plot. Remember, it was the small details that determined success of the Normandy invasion–the largest amphibious invasion in world history. A full moon was necessary so there would be enough light for ships to see their way through the English Channel. Low tides were necessary so the beach would be large enough to hold troops and supplies. And finally, they needed a good weather report. Yup. Believe it or not, it was a meteorologist who predicted a break in the horrendous storm that had pounded the Normandy area for days and on that report, Allied Commanders decided to go ahead with the invasion. On top of that, the bad weather caused many German troops in France to stand down. In fact, Field Marshall Rommel went home to Germany to celebrate his wife’s birthday!
The moral to this story is this: never underestimate the minor parts because they can be pivotal. It’s really true: the devil IS in the details.