One of the things that often 'needled' (for lack of a better word and not really intending a pun) those who received her handiwork was that she loved drab olive or deep forest green as a landscape on which to place other colors. Sometimes she'd choose denim blue. I never complained, because to me every quilt square meant something--I knew who had worn that shirt or dress before it was cut up into fabric for a blanket, but there were others in the family who flat hated her choice of colors and didn't take into consideration the time and effort spent on Mama giving them something she made. They saw only the background and not the details. They didn't see the whole picture.
Then I found out while talking with her that everything else in her quilts stood out by contrast when she worked with greens and blues. She was better able to see the vibrant yellows or reds or other colors she used when they were on a flat-colored background. In retrospect, I applaud her for even trying when she could barely see to stitch.
I catch myself wondering why my stories are often set in ordinary, even mundane, backgrounds, every-day settings in which my main protagonists jump to life when presented with other colorful characters or scenes/situations that seem out of place. The fact that John Grisham has lawyers or Tess Gerritsen uses the medical field as props against which their stories are set...just speaks volumes when I think back on Mama and her quilts.
Every good painting needs a canvas --size, background, shading, use of light all matter. Every good story needs the same--for instance, a setting that doesn't overpower the characters who must come to life and generate interest. Stories need contrast, conflict, design, all of which capture a reader's imagination.
Each author paints a word picture with their own unique brush stroke and colors, and whatever we use has to come from within, for if we're to develop our voice as writers, we can't be copycats--we have to use what we own and develop that talent before we can be heard.
Next time you're stuck in the details, try stepping back and taking another look, grasping what you envision as a whole. Maybe finishing the story won't be so difficult if you see that this part of it is out of focus, too large for the canvas, or too small to complete the final product.
Perhaps you have more than one story, more than one book in what you're attempting. I'm guilty of letting secondary characters take over, so trying to frame what I have written isn't always neat and tidy, and I have to whittle things a bit, save some of my material for other books.
Then again, I've been known to face the opposite problem--what to me is a brilliant kernel with which to start but major difficulty developing the story so that it is complete (no contrast/conflict, not enough emotional intensity--a bland background). Those works resemble so many unorganized specs on a vast wasteland where nothing connects until I step back and reevaluate where I want the story to go.
Mama has long since passed away, but her lessons linger, and I am forever grateful to her for helping me see the whole picture. Now it's up to me to develop the skills to work on background or details, whichever calls for the most attention.