Simon Ings used to say that "in science fiction, the smaller your story is, in a way, the bigger are the themes it deals with". Having limitations brings advantages in many areas, starting with literature. Although Ings speaks of "science fiction", his assertion transcends genre. I understand that he uses science fiction because that is the area he works in.
Regardless of genre, the fact is that in good novels, nothing seems to be left to chance. All the elements are connected, not necessarily by a cause-effect relationship, but by symbolic or thematic links. In part, this is another way of approaching the literary theme and a way of understanding how it can express itself through a linear story.
But this interconnection of elements is not limited to that. It is also about macrostructure and microstructure, about the small finding its reflection in the large and the large finding its reflection in the small. It is the climatology that reflects the emotional state of the protagonist. It is the cancer patient who absent-mindedly tosses a coin in the air. It is, in short, a dialogue that is established in all good stories, a connection between the monumental and the insignificant, a thread that binds the novel together. The confirmation of an extra-literary intelligence, the writer, with a master plan.
However, this relationship also exists even when there is no underlying plan, for the possibility of connecting elements is an inevitability that arises from the simple act of writing a story. A good reader will be able to find these connections even when the writer himself is not aware of them. Human beings look for patterns in chaos, synchronicities in unconnected events, like similarities in the grain of wood or the marble of bathroom tiles.
That is why every story, every work of art, in fact, admits multiple interpretations, even by serendipity. This inescapable quality does not contradict the fact that good writers have learned to work with the pieces of their novels in such a way that the fit is very fine, and the story becomes a homogeneous whole in which each element works like the cogs of an almost perfect machine. The writer who knows what he wants to talk about, always does it louder and clearer.
All great novels have a certain universalist zeal because it doesn't matter how far-reaching the specific elements of a story are: it doesn't matter whether we're talking about kingdoms, empires, or galaxies. What matters is how they fit in with the big concepts: justice, love, family, friendship, hatred, revenge, who we are and what our role in the world is. Even heroes with the most superhuman abilities hide a human dimension. The scale may be enormous (the entire universe), the subject may be grandiose (what does it mean to be human? What is the meaning of life? What is beyond the stars?), but the big questions can always be answered with a small story.
Which forces us to return to Simon Ings' phrase before concluding: the smaller the story, the bigger the issues. The relationship between a father and son, a divorce, an isolated man who must survive in a hostile climate, a woman fighting a large corporation, a family facing death, illness, an accident. These interpersonal relationships and everyday tragedies can contain everything, exemplify everything. Or, in other words: in literature it is never just about a man obsessed with hunting a whale.
There's nothing wrong with the hero of your novel wanting to save the world, but don't forget that perhaps, in a very real sense, for some people saving their marriage is tantamount to saving the world. Their world. Both situations can be combined in the same work of fiction to reinforce the literary theme or simply to add a human dimension, closer to the readers.
Either way, in the end, all stories are small because we are small. But, at the same time, all stories are huge, immeasurable, precisely because we are small, but we have the urge to go beyond, to ask questions for which we can never get an answer, or for which there are as many answers as there are people in the world.
Based on an article by @victorseyes