Small multiple is beautiful

One of the most striking portraits I have ever seen is a miniature of John Hurt, on (I think temporary) display at the National Portrait Gallery some time back. Stuart Pearson Wright painted it on a piece of wood smaller than a drinks coaster, with tiny flecks of the finest of brush standing in for each of Hurt's wiry bristles. Photographs of it such as this one don't really do it justice, as they frequently appear on monitors and in print at a size far greater than the original. As with Rothko paintings at the other end of the scale, the size is the point.

Working in miniature is something that fascinates me—hence maintaining a short-story site—but I've also become interested in variation recently. It's a standard method of translating genius into art in classical music, to take a single theme and to produce variations on it within a strict theoretical framework, but it's used less often in other genres. B S Johnson was a master of it, writing House Mother Normal by retelling the same story from the viewpoints of all the residents of an old people's home, in order of gradually decreasing mental capacity, with each page lasting the same length of time in the story (leading to a lot of blank spaces, literal "vacancies").

 On the web, the now sadly defunct Harpold 500 was an excellent combination of writer's block-buster and formal constraint: 500 words every few days on any topic, as a coherent work of writing. NaNoWriMo, when it's used properly (as opposed to simply as a mechanism for generating wordcounts) can produce some excellent work, but there's a lot more dross to wade through there.

Variation's something I'll return to, along with a discussion of the elephant in the room of variations, the clever French doctor not mentioned here, at a later date, as it's behind this year's in-progress Pocketful of Lies.