There’s something to be said for a small story. We don’t hear a lot about them, do we? No, it’s the big, bombastic, highbrow stuff that publishers go for. The blockbusters, so to speak. Small stories are like the quiet indie films of books. Sometimes they get wide spread recognition but often they slip between the cracks.
But I’ll tell you, when a small story can hook me, I’m hooked.
So today on Lessons from Anime: I want to talk about two animes with a small story but a big purpose and why they work.
The first is Kino’s Journey. It’s the story about Kino, a traveler, who tours the world with her talking motorcycle Hermes from place to place, never staying in one location for more than three days. On the way he learns a lot about philosophy, human nature and life itself. The story revolves around the principal of ‘This world is not beautiful, and therefore, it is.’ That’s it. The story is a series of vignettes but each is very poignant, showing us a new side of this vast and interesting world.
This story isn’t exactly big but it is beautiful. The messages it imparts, both simple and complex are important, interesting and always unique. It’s one of my favorite animes for this reason.
Haibane Renmei has a continuous storyline. It’s about a group of girls who have died and are now in some sort of ‘afterlife’ trying to make their way in the world. That’s all I can really say about it. It’s just about the afterlives of these girls and how they find peace. It’s not about them coming to grips with their old lives because we never find out why they died. That’s not the important thing. It’s a really hard show to describe and recommend, as you can see, and yet it’s just so good. It’s quietly powerful.
Maybe the reason small stories don’t sell is because they are harder to describe. Harry Potter is easy. It’s about a boy who finds out he’s a wizard and goes to magic school. Hunger Games is about a dystopian society in which every year, 24 kids fight to the death in an arena, gladiator style. Both of these books good but they are easy to pitch to your friends. Small stories? It’s hard to emphasize what makes small stories great.
Of course, I’ve been using visual examples for small stories. Kino’s Journey and Haibane Renmei both have wonderful art and camera angles going for them. Books don’t have that luxury. So how do small stories stand out?
The first way is language.
Language is the key to hooking the reader into a small story. From the very first page, a writer must fight to keep their readers going, whether with voice or pure imagery. Beautiful writing can carry a reader all the way through a story that doesn’t seem big.
The second way is purpose. Even if the story is small in comparison to others, there must be an end goal. There must be a reason for the story. And, preferably, it should be a powerful reason. That is what will make the read feel worthwhile.
The third way is character. Often times, when a story is small, the characters have to shine. In both of the animes I mentioned, the characters are engaging and sympathetic. Kino especially is one of my favorite characters in any anime. If the characters latch onto the reader's heartstrings, they'll follow them through any plot, big or small.
Writers with a smaller story to tell have a more difficult time. But if done just right, a small story can become big in the minds of readers. And there is something very beautiful about that.