Small Picture, Big Picture

By now you’re probably not at all surprised to learn that I like to put big ideas in my stories. From Circuit’s love of large projects to Helix’s complex family tree to the question of whether we as a society can deal with outstanding people who are outstanding in ways we don’t like, big ideas are the bread and butter of this blog. The problem with big ideas is they tend to take us over.

Say you read a new book, one you really love. How often do you catch yourself measuring everything by that book? Let’s say you took my advice a few months back and read up on Girl Genius. Then you went out and read Whitechapel Gods right after that. I can almost guarantee that you like one of those stories much more than the other, and what’s more, you probably measured them against each other.

There’s nothing wrong with that. Measuring ideas is something humans are hardwired to do, and comparison is one of the key tools we have to do it with. But the problem with running into big ideas is they often become our standard for everything, at least for a short time, and that can throw our perspective out of whack, especially if we keep going from big idea to big idea. Eventually we wind up kind of aimless, just sort of wandering from fad to fad with no idea what we’re doing or what’s really going on at all.

Oddly enough, one of the easiest ways to pick out a person’s big picture is not to walk up to them and ask, “What do you think is the meaning of life, the universe and everything?”

For starters, the cool people are all going to tell you, “42.” (So will anyone else who’s read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.) But more than that, most people haven’t thought it over enough to actually give you a clear answer, or in some cases even realize that they have a big idea at all. (Note: In some circles, this blog included, not having a big idea counts as a big idea. It’s just not a great idea…)

No, the simplest way to work out a person’s big idea is to pay attention to their small ones. All ideas are interconnected, and your big idea defines how you look at all your smaller ones. With a lot of practice and a solid understanding of humanity you can start to extrapolate exactly what it is people are thinking about all the time based on what they’re thinking and talking about at any given minute. All the ideas are connected, even if the core idea is just, “Shiny!” (Actually, that one’s pretty easy to figure out.)

In the West, the study of ideas is called philosophy, and a lot of Western traditions think of philosophers as wise men and advisers, people who take a hand in advising their community and pointing out potential pitfalls and errors. They’re valuable men, but often rather mundane. In our fiction, they tend to be either well educated men who have devoted their whole life to learning; or people who have simply spent their whole life working, the people they meet and the tasks they carry out teaching them the value of some ideas and the weaknesses of others.

In the East, people who study ideas fall into a group best described as sages. They are men who live in isolation, taking part in community life only when it comes to them for advice or, at times, drags them forcibly back to civilization. Their ideas give them power, physical, political and often in fiction spiritual and supernatural. But the time, dedication, isolation and natural talent needed to develop a sage’s wisdom sets them irrevocably apart from other men. They tend to keep to themselves and associate primarily with other sages. A sage who steps into the world will change it in huge ways, at the risk of destroying one or both of them in the process.

The Weavers of the Heartlands are a group of people who live in the American Midwest. They are a collision of philosopher and sage, at once seeking to live in ways different from their community and shape it and nurture it.

Like the witches and wizards of fairy tales or the sages of Eastern traditions, they often eschew the stifling bustle of humanity that comes with cities, and that’s not surprising. Like those people, the Weavers have understanding and power that exceeds what most people strangely consider “normal”. However, these powers stem from the nature and depth of their thought, not from a natural talent or selective blessing. Rather it is the connection of things and ideas, and the careful analysis of those patterns of connections, that makes a Weaver powerful. And in turn, the ideas Weavers carry are carefully reasoned, vigorously defended and actively prosecuted, putting them in constant conflict with one another and with humanity at large.

Of course, the modern world looks poorly on direct conflict, and magic by any name has baggage of it’s own. So the conflicts between Weavers are a quieter thing these days.

But not gone. No, the Weaver’s magic is alive and well, and in the most unexpected of places…

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One response to “Small Picture, Big Picture

  1. Pingback: What Keeps Me Reading (Blogs) | The L. Palmer Chronicles

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