One Writer’s Journey

May 3, 2017

Leaving Room for Your Reader

Leaving Room for the readerRecently I read a post on Litreactor about leaving room in your story for the reader. One of the examples that the author used was a super short piece attributed to Hemingway.  “FOR SALE: Baby shoes, never worn.”

That’s all there is to it and immediately, as the reader, your mind starts reeling out possibilities. Oh no, the baby died!   Or maybe the parents decided against shoes — I don’t know why!  I just like that version better.  Who were they?  Probably poor.  How awful!  With just these six words you start filling in back story, characters, plot possibilities and more.  There was plenty of room for you to fit in and spin the story, making it your own.

Other ways that authors do this is when they don’t give exacting physical descriptions of their characters.  What?!  Yep.  No hair color.  No eye color.  Just vague things — tall, muscular and handsome might be the description of a teen male character coming from another love-struck character.  How does this leave room for the reader?

You allow the reader to picture themself, within reason, as the character.  When I interviewed Simone Elkeles about her young adult romance, Perfect Chemistry, she told me about speaking in a school and having a Latino teen tell her that he was glad her male character was like him, the reader.  Elkeles first thought, wait a minute but she didn’t say anything and later reread the description.  She had described his character and personality, not how he looked.  Because of this, the reader had plenty of room to manuever.

Other ways to leave room for the reader include:

Open endings that allow readers to debate what happens next. These are especially popular in flash fiction.

Heinlein-styled science fiction in which the reader is dropped into the story.  Backstory and other details are revealed on a need-to-know basis.

Telling the story and leaving it up to the reader to determine the moral (also known as “not preaching”).

To make this work in your story, keep it tight.  This doesn’t mean you have to be terse but don’t overwrite.  If it doesn’t have to be in the story in order for the reader to understand, cut it.  Instead, let the reader’s imagination do the work.



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