Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Action in the white space - Part I

Over the course of the week, I'm going to be discussing writing in the white space. It's communicating a point without actually writing it. Writing between the lines...or not.

Sometimes as writers we worry that if we don't describe absolutely everything, our readers will be left confused but give your reader some credit. If your chapter started, "John scooped macaroni and cheese from the glass pan and plopped it on his plate", we as readers will assume it's dinner time (when) and that he's at home (where) not a restaurant and that he's not lactose intolerant...we gather a lot by action and the author didn't have to step in at all.

What are a few ways we can write action in the white space?

1) Show the outcome rather than describe the action...

"I won't let you hurt me again, John," she said.
He stepped closer. "What are you gonna do about it? You don't control me, I control you." He jabbed his finger into her chest.
"I have a gun, John, I do. Please, step back... step back, I say. I'm begging you, step back."
"Ha, you don't know how to use that gun, little girl. You don't even know --"
He looked down to his chest. The red spot grew on his paisley shirt.

So, I didn't describe the action of pulling the trigger but I described the result of the action. The reader will figure out she did know how to pull the trigger.

2) Let the reader settle disputes on his own or allow them to open Pandora's box ...

Although it is important to tie up many loose ends, not all of them need to be. I like watching the television show Bones. It's clear to me that Booth and Brennan feel a connection but they don't always agree. Booth is strong Catholic and Brennan... well, I don't know what she believes but it's closer to agnostic. On the show, they constantly debate the validity of their respective religions but the writers of the show never state what they feel is right or wrong. The viewers can make their own decisions.

A writer can do the same thing. We can write about controversial issues but it doesn't mean we have to answer all the universal questions. Let's say your book is about politics, your character is living in the United States and it's almost voting time. The writer gives the reader both sides of the debate - democrat or republican - the character debates internally, but at the end of the novel the character enters the voting booth and the story ends. Each reader can decide for themselves how the character voted.

Or, one character may be pregnant...she has many choices: keep the baby, abort, adopt or other. Throughout the book, the character debates but in the end, the reader does not know what happened. The reader can choose for themselves.

Not every box has to be opened, not every letter has to be read, not every answer has to be given.

Source: Brainstormer


Great link: Patricia Stoltey at her blog listed Self-Editing steps... these are great links so check it out.

18 comments:

MeganRebekah said...

I love the example with the gun. Very well done!
(and I love Bones, so that's awesome too!)

Ann Elle Altman said...

Thank you, Megan. Yeah, I can't wait until this week's episode.

ann

Elspeth Antonelli said...

I like your notion of leaving some boxes opened but not emptied. Life doesn't always come with answers for everything - why should books?

Jane Kennedy Sutton said...

I like your examples. Although if I followed a character who was debating how to handle her pregnancy all the way through a book and it ended without me knowing her decision, I’d probably be very frustrated.

Lisa Green said...

Love your post, I just finished a short story where I ended at a similar point. I let the reader decide what must have happened.

Kimberly Franklin said...

Very well done. It's always a good thing to make the readers think. : )

Samantha Rose said...

nice example with the gun. i found your advice very helpful. i sometimes get frustrated at those endings that leave a big open-ended decision, though.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Elspeth, exactly. It involves the reader more in the story...they continue the story in their minds after it finishes.

Jane and Samantha, I'm not suggesting main plot lines or main character's actions should be left open ended but there may be subplots or minor characters...

Lisa, sounds like an interesting story.

Kimberley, thank you for your kind words and comment.

ann

Linda said...

Wonderful post--and I love when an author allows the reader to think for themselves about parts of the story. I can then immerse myself more fully into the characters...

Patricia Stoltey said...

I don't mind having to use my own imagination a bit when reading a novel. If the author fills in every single detail, it takes some of the fun out of reading.

Thanks for linking to my post about the self-editing series. I appreciate it a whole bunch.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Linda and Patricia, glad you liked the post. And Patricia, no problem about the link, I love posting wonderful links. I know where to find them later.

ann

Anasthaesium said...

Nice. Keep writing. Am actually looking to improve my writing and incorporating your tips consciously. :)

Talli Roland said...

Thank you so much for the tips! Remembering to 'show not tell' has got to be one of the hardest things in the world. It's so easy to slip into the 'telling'.

Great reminder!

Michele Emrath said...

I love this concept and I love your post. Writers should give their readers more credit, and if it's written well and the reader still doesn't get it, then it's on the reader!

This post is definitely going in my Sunday Roundup!

Michele
SouthernCityMysteries

Carol Kilgore said...

Good stuff here. Thanks for sharing. I like the leaving stuff out part that the reader can figure out for herself.

Ann Elle Altman said...

Anasthaesium, thank you for your comment. It's nice to know my words are valued.

Talli, glad you liked the tips.

Michele, I'm honored that you will put me in your Sunday post line up.

Carol, glad you found the points helpful.

ann

Rayna M. Iyer said...

I love books that indicate rather than inform. Shows so much more respect for the reader.
About the other, if it is a peripheral issue, I would rather things be left unresolved, but if the conflict is one of the main things in the story,then it better be sorted out even if in a way I don't agree with.

Gwen Stickle said...

What a great post. Thank you for your examples.