Monday, October 12, 2015

The Power of a Blank by Jo Wanmer






One colouring-in book and twelve felt pens. This simple creativity helped me relax as I sat with my granddaughter in a kids hospital ward. I love colours, shades and hues, the brighter the better. However even the brightest colour needs to be complemented by dark or light to bring impact.

I coloured today with only 12 shades...or so I thought. But I have a thirteenth colour. White. Or no colour. To leave an area blank defines the rest. It makes colour sharper, brighter.

White space is an important part of book presentation. Readers flick through assessing if it looks interesting and easily read. What they are noting is the balance between words and space. They are attracted by the space that isn't filled in. The same principle applies to blogs. No paragraphs? Lots of packed lines? It's hard to read and most won't attempt it.

Computer Desktop Encyclopaedia defines white space as any area on a document page that does not contain text or graphics. Writehood says, 'White space is the emptiness between characters, lines and paragraphs in an article or story.' Instinctively our eyes look for the next white space. The sentences we remember best are the ones closest to the gap. (writesideways.com)

Lack of white space flags a slow and detailed manuscript. Readers expect lots of facts and little action. It's similar to my colouring in.  Too much bright colour is dead and boring without light or dark to bring it life.

So today as I painted my page, marvelling at the power of 'no colour,' I wondered about my writing. Is it enhanced by allowing some bits to remain uncoloured, leaving a space between scenes, or even in them, to add emphasis?

When Mary Hawkins, my first writing mentor, scrapped the first three chapters of my book, I was horrified and confused. 'But...but what about all that information and background?'

She was unsympathetic. 'The story starts here and so must the book.'

I began to understand that a page or two explaining the heartbreak of having to adopt kids could be reduced to one word - adopted. Those details were irrelevant to this part of my life. When authors omit selected details it allows the reader to overlay their own life experience and so the story is personally enhanced.

Likewise, the reader doesn't need to know every event between the gun being fired and the hospital scene, unless it is pivotal to the story. And a Bible quote, not essential to plot, is only a filler. It will detract from the overall clarity of the overall story.

Bible writers are masters of this writing technique. Luke tells us of a woman who led a sinful life. She came and washed Jesus feet with her tears and dried them with her hair. At the end of a quite detailed passage Jesus finishes with these words, Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgivenas her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little, loves little. (Luke 7:47 NIV)

The startling omission in this story relates to the woman's sin. Was she a thief, a murderer, a prostitute, an adulterer? The author doesn't say. Therefore any reader can relate and know that regardless of their sin, they too can be accepted.

Balance is key. Too much empty space leaves a picture, a page or a story bland and incomplete. Crowded detail swamps the clarity and focus of our work. Readers eyes tend to look toward the next action. If they become bogged in detail and lose the thread or point of the paragraph they jump ahead to - yes, you guessed it - the next white space.

In my current work in progress, there are a few scenes in danger of disappearing. Are they unnecessary fillers that muddy the story? Are there corners that would be better left blank and so draw focus to the main point?

What about you? Have you read this far? This piece of writing has passed the test if that is the case. I'd love to hear your comments about blank/white space.

Jo Wanmer Published her prize winning faction, Though the Bud be Bruised, in 2015. There are two other novels awaiting final editing.
She lives in the suburbs between Brisbane and the wonderful Sunshine Coast. Together with Steve, her husband, they run a business, help pastor a cutting edge church and pour love on eight grandchildren and their parents!
Jo's purpose is to inspire greatness in everyone she meets. Preaching the amazing love of God is her passion.

https://www.facebook.com/Jo-Wanmer-225587647532812/timeline/

13 comments:

  1. Really good article, Jo. I've read many a manuscript that spends too long getting started, and too many that have wandered off into filler. Really good points.

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  2. Great post Jo - and a good reminder both about paragraph structure and not over cluttering our prose with irrelevant detail. I agree 100% with blog posts - they are so much easier to read when broken down into paragraphs. And I like your point about the Biblical narrative - by not being specific at this one point, it allows everyone to identify with the woman. Robert Alter in The Art of Biblical Narrative argues that this is a major and powerful difference between the narratives of the Bible and ancient Greek narratives (such as Homer or classical authors) - it is the light and shadow of the narratives that give them emotional power. https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/398085.The_Art_of_Biblical_Narrative

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    1. I didn't know that Jeanette. Fascinating. When I have time I should read that book. Thanks for your encouraging comments.

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  3. Great post, Jo. Even more true in writing for film. Some manuscripts may not even be considered if "action blocks" over consistently over four or five lines long.

    Charles M Shultz comes to mind too (Charlie Brown). He had a knack for communicating emotion and setting with simple lines and lots of white space.

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    1. I'm learning a lot today! Thanks for adding to the debate Simon.

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  4. Hi Jo,
    The lesson about white space is a valuable one. I realised how unconsciously we might put down a book because it's paragraphs look too blocky and intense. Lessons like that cross over to life too, reminding me to keep a bit space in our schedules, commitments and everything.

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    1. Great point Paula. We need blank spaces in all areas of life. I'm sure they enhance everything we do.

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  5. Fabulous post! I agree. White is a very important color for our books. The more white space we have, the better. The Bible writers are masters of that technique. I hadn't thought about that until I read this lovely post you wrote. "Therefore any reader can relate and know that regardless of their sin, they too can be accepted." One of the most beautiful sentences I've ever read. And so true. Thanks for sharing this.

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  6. Thank you Robyn for such an encouraging comment. We should note more from Bible writers. After all they have been included in the top seller!

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  7. Great post Jo. I must admit I'm a lot more likely to read a book if there are short chapters and scene breaks. You always feel like you want to read just that bit more. It's probably even more important in magazines where different layouts can draw you to a particular story. I once heard someone say that she thought it was a waste if every centimetre on a page wasn't used, but the others in the room disagreed. As you mentioned, those white spaces can be important and may well be the difference between reading what's on the page or not. Thanks for sharing.

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  8. Thanks, Jo, for those important insights. I agree re that need for white space in our books, but, for a wordy writer like I am, it's often easier said than done! The same with my blogs. Hmm--will have to watch that, so thank you.

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  9. Thanks Jo for a great post. I am sorry you have been in hospital on too many occasions with your beloved grand daughter. Good on you for the colouring and the insights on white space. I totally agree. Love keeping my paras short in order to increase white space and readability. And yes - I too need to learn to be less verbose in my writing.

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  10. Fabulous post Jo. It is sad that you have had to be at the hospital so many times; however what a wonderful way to spend it - colouring in. I too appreciate white space within a book. Also I love authors who create that space by the use of short chapters. It makes me want to keep turning the pages. I agree with Paula Vince - we do need more white space in many areas of our lives.

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