Are You Aware of the Negative Space in Your Writing?

Negative space.  We’re used to seeing that term used to describe art.   It is the open space between two or more objects.  The empty space.   What isn’t there.

But how do you use the negative space in your writing?  Yes, there is negative space in writing.  I came to that conclusion after reading the following quote from the Huffington Post.  “‘I like to cut away or remove parts of pages so that there is a kind of conversation between what is printed on the page and what is removed — the positive and negative space are equally important,’ [Ruff] told The Huffington Post . . .”

Take a look at the slide show.  Visually, Ruff’s work is a struggle.  My brain battles to reconcile the inked images in the newsprint with the gaps in the paper.  What is there and what isn’t?

Donna Ruff slide show

In any good story, there is play between what is there and what isn’t.  Sometimes, you are playing with this to trick the reader.   They mentally fill in what you leave unsaid.  Perhaps they fill in the space correctly, perhaps you have misled them.

When we cut from one scene to another there is an interplay between what is there and what isn’t.  We don’t need a blow by blow account of how your third grade character gets to school each and every day.  Unless we do.  If your character has always walked and has to ride the bus home, this might be something you would want to write about, but what you don’t want to do is bore the reader with ho hum ordinary moments.

Dialogue tags can also represent a use of negative space.  You don’t need to follow every bit of conversation with Ryan said, Clara asked.  But you do need to make sure that what it there reveals what isn’t — who is speaking.

Positive and negative space.  What is there and what isn’t.  How your brain fills in the gaps.  All of these things play throughout your stories.  The question is whether or not you use them as effectively as Ruff does.