Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Big Picture

By Lisabet Sarai

This week's topic at the Grip is "Trivial Trivia". Michelle's commentary continues:

Here's your chance to share all of that useless trivia crowding out stories in your brain. It can be about sex, or not. It can be about writing, or not. Anything is game.

I have to admit that I'm stymied. I'm a concept sort of gal. I don't do trivia. Okay, probably I do have isolated, obscure facts rattling around in my brain, but in general that's not my cognitive style. I tend to focus on the fundamental principles of things, the important relationships, the critical skills. I figure I can always look up the details.

There is, of course, also the question of defining just what trivia means. "Trivial" implies unimportant. I could cite lots of rules and terminology in the area of grammar, for instance. Does the fact that counter factual sentences require the use of the subjunctive in the independent clause count as trivia? I don't think so. I write software for a living and can program in at least a dozen languages. Are the rules for using parentheses in C trivia? Hell, no! Use them wrong and your banking system may cheat depositors or your launch vehicle might crash.

In fact, it occurs to me that even the facts that most of us might agree were trivia are important to someone. The birth date of Queen Elizabeth the Second, for example (April 21, 1926) might be considered trivia, but I'll wager that Her Majesty doesn't view it that way. The proportion of egg yolk to oil when making mayonnaise (one yolk to a cup of oil) might seem like trivia to you, but certainly not to Julia Childs!

In any case, trivia are not in any sense my specialty. I almost always focus on the Big Picture. That's usually the way I write, as well. The majority of my stories begin with a premise - not a specific scene or character, but a notion about some situation that has dramatic narrative possibilities. What if someone had visions revealing future disasters, but couldn't control them? (Necessary Madness) What if a woman couldn't let go sexually with someone she cared about, only with strangers? (Incognito) What if you had lovers who had no physical bodies? (Bodies of Light) I start with the basic idea and then allow the other story details to develop.

This is probably one reason that I often write "to spec", that is, in response to particular calls for submission. I'm pretty good at taking a theme or topic and turning it into a premise. The only one of my books I can think of that violated this pattern is Exposure. I heard Stella's voice, the way Mike says he hears characters, telling me: "I strip for the fun of it. Don't let anyone tell you different." I had no idea where the story would go from there. I had to let Stella tell it. The book began as a short story that concluded with a double murder. I really could not have told you who was responsible or what was going on. I had to turn the story into a novel in order to find out.

I'm looking forward to reading what my fellow Grip folk have to say on this topic. Michelle is a biologist, so almost by definition she's going to have a raft of nifty facts at her fingertips. Garce is a bookish and slightly obsessive sort who accumulates arcane knowledge. As for Kathleen, Charlotte, and Mike - well, I can't even begin to predict what they'll come up with.

That's half the fun of participating in this wonderful blog. Which by the way I have now been doing since February 1, 2009 - more than two years!

I had to look that fact up, by the way.


  1. I am a collector of undiscovered trifles, as Pratchett says. I absolutely ROCK at trivial pursuit because I can tell you whether Bart Simpson is left or right handed, who the fifth Beatle was and what "cutting a voluntary" means.

    I love trivia and it seeps out into my historicals all the time, often ninja-like, just being something someone says as a throwaway because I don'twant to make a big deal of it. :D

  2. Since the subject IS trivia, "The Big Picture" was a series of half hour television programs produced by the Department of Defense in the early 1950's, demonstrating our preparedness to respond to military conflicts. I remember it airing early (7AM) on Saturdays, but it may have been on all week. It paralleled such programs as "Industry on Parade" that showcased American industry and American workers.

  3. LOL Lisabet ... I have a feeling you are going to love this week. : ) I was trying for a topic that would be fairly lighthearted ... and trivia just seems to fit.

  4. Saturday's Guest could be YOU! Yes you, dear reader ... here's how.

    I challenge the Oh Get A Grip readers to all be this week's Saturday guest. Send me an email at with the subject 'OGG Trivia' before Friday night, and include your favorite ONE piece of trivia and what name you want it posted as. NO email addys will be included. I will compile the results on Saturday morning and post them. So, any takers?

  5. I love trivia. I just pick up random facts as I go about reading, watching TV, listening to radio, listening to others. Sometime I'll be able to use it somewhere, probably a game of triival pursuit. I loved Who Wants to be a Millionarie and all the other game shows that use trivia. I adore Jeopardy. I even tried out for it but it's hard.

  6. While I don't have any specific trivia circling the brain at the moment, I am a Straight Dope addict. fact, it occurs to me I haven't checked on Unca Cecil's columns in a week or so. Off I go!


  7. She -- Hubby and I watch Jeopardy all the time. It's kind of funny though, some games I will sit without answering any questions, and other games, the answers just come out of nowhere and hubby gets that raised eyebrow look. He already wonders if I am actually twins, or maybe split personalities. Watching jeopardy just makes him wonder more. LOL

  8. Erastes - I read your reviews on Goodreads and marvel at the information you seem to have at your fingertips!

    Randall - Now there's something I'd never heard of. Of course, there are lots of facts that fall into that category...!

    Michelle - what a GREAT idea, about the Saturday guest! I'll shout it out to my lists.

    She - Guess I'm really in the minority!

    Elizabeth - I don't have a clue what you're talking about...

  9. bookish and obsessive? Hell yes. I think I'll get me some Harry Potter glasses next chance I get. but you're right, i like trivia. And its true - I'd be hell on Jeopardy.

    Don;t you think trivia can be fun? I love trivia.



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