State Library of Victoria \ Inside a dog
Skip to main content

The little things

Feb 19,2013
Printer-friendly versionSend by email


There is a setting on facebook where you can announce something as a life event. The thing is that you don't necessarily recognise events as life changing at the time. Often times, in my experience, the things that change your life are quiet and discreet. You don't realise how momentous they are going to be until much later.

Here are a couple of examples:

When I was working as a check out chick in a homewares store, one of the ladies I worked with told me that her husband was going to take a couple of years off to write a novel. I said to her, 'why can't he just write it at night?', and she laughed at me. I didn't think it was such a ridiculous thing, so I went home that night and began the manuscript that became 'Finding Grace'. Maybe I would have written novels anyway, even if we had not had that brief conversation, but I suspect not. I probably would have signed up for an amateur dramatics group instead. (I may still!)

In my local paper there was an ad for a writers' group. I went along one day. The rest of the people talked about minutes of the meeting and the petty cash and so forth, and I decided not to go again, but across the room I saw a blonde woman with an intelligent, open face. Over tea and bickies we shyly agreed to exchange manuscripts. I commented candidly about hers, and she about mine. She has turned out to be not only a valued sounding board for my manuscripts, but a friend who has been a part of the most significant events in my life since. We both only went to that writers' group once. Imagine if we had not?

Last year in May I went to work in my partner's car. I was on a road I didn't know. It was wet, and as I came around a corner that was sharper than I guessed, I tapped the brakes, which were a bit more sensitive than in my car. The car went into a spin and when the back end crossed the centre line, I hit a guy on a motorbike. He was not seriously hurt, but... 

I wonder still if I had been in my car, which is a four wheel drive, would I have killed him? Surely I would have killed him. Would I have been better at braking in my own car? What happened to him after that? Did he stop road-biking? What did he miss out on in that period of recuperation? 

None of these were events that I would 'announce' on Facebook, but they have changed the course of my life, and other people's. I suspect this is where the stories are. I think the stories are burrowing in to those small decisions and mishaps that turn everything around. 

There are a few books that follow this kind of idea. I'm not talking about books that contain a series of small things that aren't momentous eventually, or books that have a series of convenient coincidences, but more how real life is made up of a series of these moments, interspersed with big things that you realise are significant at the time, like graduations and marriages and births. 

I'm wondering if you have read a book like that, or if you have written a story like that? Or if there was something small that didn't seem important at the time, but turned out to be? 

Feb 20,2013
anonymous's picture

I couldn’t agree more that the most incidental meetings and timings can turn into the foundation of great life events, great friendships. Especially when they start with two kindred spirits sitting, disaffected, at opposite sides of a room. That was one of my better ‘mistakes’.


Another example in my life was the day I went scuba diving with a close girlfriend and met a hot Aussie bloke on the beach. He was leaving Canada five weeks later but we figured we could have a few laughs before he went. Twenty-five years down the road, we’re living happily ever after.


So I love stories with true-to-life layers – a hint here, a sign there – of something that turns out to be more important than it first appears. I've combed through books looking for the first time I saw the solicitors’ name in the mirror on the cosmetic counter or first learned of the protagonist’s fascination with the Archduke Franz Ferdinand (John Green, An Abundance of Katherines). I like to enjoy the clues retrospectively.


I know it’s considered bad form or weak plotting to include coincidence in fiction but IMO some amount of coincidence makes a story more credible. Life made up of a tidy series of events than can be plotted on a story board. It’s shaped by a meteorite that bursts through the atmosphere without being predicted by scientists because it was too small to register on their equipment.

Feb 19,2013

Think about 'Lord of the Rings' though. Hardly any of that is small. It's all huge, arduous, treacherous, heavy, grand, broad, long. Still a good story.


Feb 19,2013
anonymous's picture

Isn't this really the definition of story telling is about? Life is not about earth shattering events ocurring all the time, its about a progression of accidents, coincidence and intended actions that make up our lives. Some events being more significant than others.

It would be a dull story (or over stimulating at the other extreme) that didnt adhere to this.

Post new Comment

All comments are moderated and will not appear immediately. Please be patient - we're keen to know what you think and will get to your comment as fast as we can.