I don’t have a fireplace and there aren’t any campfires on my horizon. Yet I was fascinated by some advice I read recently about how to place logs to ensure the best fire. The sentence that leaped out at me was the importance of leaving “breathing space” between the logs. Placing them well, the article stresses, requires as much attention to the spaces in between as to the logs. On the other hand, putting too many in too closely can “douse the flames,” like a bucket of water thrown on them.
Isn’t this true of writing, as well? If we try to cram in too much, to spell out every detail, we aren’t leaving space for the reader’s imagination.
Many decades ago when I was a, college student I was in a course with the promising title, Creative Writing. I handed the instructor a story I’d written, sure that she’d be impressed by how detailed it was. It came back with three words written in capital letters across the top: TRUST YOUR READER!
Her savvy dictum became a guideline, for I had the habit of over-explaining as though a reader would be incapable of filling in the spaces As a result, I tended to sabotage subtlety and force- feed an overdose of miscellaneous information. As a slight example, I would put in such phrases as, ”She felt happy about that,” or, ”He was jubilant about what she said.” As if the reader couldn’t sense that from the action and dialogue.
We should not only trust the reader, but honor his or her imagination and ability to fill in what’s not explicit. To allow for the reader’s own feelings and vision. That’s a major part of the pleasure of reading. When I remember this, my pared-down stories are invariably stronger and more successful.
As a friend who’s a writer informed me, “The most important things in a story are the spaces between the lines.”
Leaving, space applies to relationships, too , but that’s for another blog!
Meanwhile, keeping this one brief, I leave space for you to fill in with your own thoughts.
BOOKS: “Widow’s Walk,” available through iUniverse.com; “Turning Toward Tomorrow” -xLibris.com; ”Ten Women of Valor” – CreateSpace.com and Amazon.com. Also Amazon Kindle.