White Space

In design, white space is your friend. I have spent hours trying to convince clients to let the design breathe, that less is more, that the ‘negative’ in negative space is a positive, a necessary component of good design. Effectively used, negative, or white space is as powerful as a bold word, a great graphic or well-written copy.

It’s a crazy concept when you think about it as an author. Except it isn’t. Physically, the white blank page is daunting, but white space in writing isn’t about a blank page in a book or article. It’s not about writer’s block, or the anticipation of starting a new book.

It’s the equivalent of subtext, words not said but that come through nonetheless.

It’s the description of the hero that a reader builds up in his or her mind even though the writer has only done a cursory job of it. It’s the reel of images that flashes through when you read a reference to a familiar TV show, book, artist or movie. It’s a new and wonderful environment that a writer manages to create by not saying, “this is a new and wonderful place.” It’s the suspense of not knowing something that moves a story along. When you read the words “she gave him a sidelong glance”, you know that ‘she’ has something on her mind that hasn’t been said but that might make sense later. So you read on, because the negative space is driving you forward.

When I was creating Rumi for Butterfly Season, I wrote pages of her history that I later took out of the book. It was a novella, and a romance, and little things like her favorite book growing up weren’t going to appear in the story line. But they shaped my character, they added depth to her words, to her actions and reactions. Because the main antagonist was her sister, their shared history, their background as semi-conservative women from urban Pakistan and their life experiences helped shape the story.

There’s a temptation to over-explain, to point out our reasons behind a scene, an action, or a character flaw, that really doesn’t need to be there. Deconstructing our ideas is the reader’s job. Reading between the lines is what we hope they will do. Sometimes, they just don’t need the extra information, like the second Mrs. de Winter’s first name in the classic Rebecca.

It’s the words that aren’t on the page that are as important as those that are.

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