Why do I watch the Olympics? I’m as patriotic as the next guy, but USA’s medal count matters to me about as much as who wins the Super Bowl or World Series (other than knowing for watercooler convos the next day, not much). It’s as much for the stories as anything else. And the Olympics is full of stories.
Often the real story is what the athlete had to go through to get to the Olympics. Sometimes the story is the rivalries that arise during the games. It may be the moments of class, grace, and sportsmanship the occur during the games. It may be the personal struggles an athlete goes through on their way to the finals. Everywhere you look there are stories.
For every big story, like Lithuania knocking off the USA Dream Team, there are hundred little stories. An athlete struggles through Crone’s Disease to win a medal. A seasoned veteran mentors a rookie who becomes the partner that gets him on the medal stand. A coach pulls the goalie who put in a phenomenal first half to put in a less experienced goalie, who then gives up five goals to lose the game.
Every novel has its big stories we want our readers to care about. But one of the best ways to accomplish that is to build a foundation of a lot of smaller stories that make us care about the characters who make up the big story. Yes, we might care about our interstellar naval captain who suddenly finds himself in the middle of a firefight with an unknown alien race, but we’ll like care even more if we know that this captain has been held back in his career after a brash decision went wrong, and now he second-guesses himself. Add to that a female first officer whose older brother’s shady dealings have put on pressure on her to be all that much more ‘by-the-book’, and a science officer whose father was aboard a ship destroyed by aliens two decades earlier, and you have just added a lot more tension to an already tense story.
So when writing your big story, don’t forget about all the little stories behind that story. It’s those littles stories that help us care about the big story.