Finding the Words

a blog devoted to the art, craft, and frustration of writing

a brief rant… and thoughts on negative space June 14, 2007

Filed under: writing — itsy @ 12:50 pm

Gosh, it’s been forever since I last posted. I’m still plonking away, not quite making the plunge into rewriting, but certainly dipping my toe in it. In the meantime I’ve decided to write some short stories. Partly because they intrigue me–it’s a form I’ve never quite gotten a grasp on, and I’m finding the challenge motivating. Partly because I can submit them to magazines, and at least have something published (crossing my fingers!)

All that aside, I’ve been feeling a little frustrated with my writing group lately. They are all wonderful people and good writers. Maybe it would be more correct to say my dissatisfaction is a bit more general, not directed to the specific people involved. Sometimes the group swoops in on a piece, dissects it, and I feel clarified. Recently it’s been feeling like they swoop in, and come up with all these nit picky little things. They question everything. “This seems out of character.” Um, yeah, that’s kind of the point. “You should write, ‘He felt angry.'” What, the fact that he was gritting his teeth and cursing the other person didn’t clue you in? “It seems like they’ve been walking a long time.” Maybe because they have a long way to walk! “I’d expect her to cry about something as upsetting as this.” But she doesn’t, so what does that tell you about her personality?

Okay, I’m sniping here, but I was puzzled by their confusion. I wanted to remind them about Occam’s Razor. “That phrase makes her sound bitter.” Well, the logical conclusion should be that she _is_ bitter, right?

I’m beginning to think writing fiction is partly about removing and dismantling expectations and presuppositions. Readers jump to conclusions. You have to give them enough to stop them from jumping to the wrong ones. Maybe my writing is simply not authorative, descriptive, or clear enough. With the novella I’m working on now I’ve developed an oddly minimalist style, which is running me into trouble. People like things, objects, and their minds strive to fill in all the holes. I’d like to keep the style–it’s fun weeding through all the crap that I could write, and decided just the most important descriptions or aspects. Maybe I’ve gone to far? After all, if no one understands your writing, you’ve sort of failed in your mission as a writer. “Is there a chandelier? A fire??” one of my critiquers wrote, “Chairs? Tables rugs walls? Seems like they’re floating…”

No, when I say they ate dinner, I think we can assume they are at a table, sitting on chairs, probably on a floor of some sort, in the house that they entered at the beginning of the last scene. Should I put all of that in? I like the concept of making the reader meet you half way, but it seems I haven’t found my balance. I’m struggling with this, the mundane details vs. what we might consider essential. I mean, who really cares if there’s a rug underfoot? Yeah, it would be nice to know. Yeah, it might help create a mental picture of the scene in your head, which some people argue is one of the primary goals of fiction, but wouldn’t you rather have a moment of clarity when an aspect of the character is brought into intense focus, revealing some new insight? Those moments would be lost, I theorize, if everything else in the room is equally focused. By writing less, I’m actually able to say more. I didn’t anticipate how much this would confuse people. Maybe we are too used to stuff cluttering up our senses.

But I like negative space. We’re not used to thinking about it, but what’s not written is just as important as what is.

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3 Responses to “a brief rant… and thoughts on negative space”

  1. deano Says:

    I like the concept of making the reader meet you half way, but it seems I haven’t found my balance.

    Who is Your Reader; whom do you write for? I think of inspired writing as existing along an ellipse, with a reader archetype and the writer located at the foci. Neither exists in the writing, but together they define it.

    This assumes the writer has the necessary discipline and insight to impose a proper distance between the two. Alternatively, a good editor, standing in for Your Reader, can rescue the work from reducing into a self-centered circle!

    (Formulas, geometries…I do love my maths)

  2. Kaitlyn Says:

    My 2 centimes: Don’t second guess your own instincts about what to include or leave out. Listen to comments on your work as you would watch a parade–some floats are crap, some are odd, some are ok, and a few are friggin awesome. Hold out for the latter and then hold out some more–resist any change that goes against your natural instinct for the story. Another key is that you can’t bring a story to a group that you haven’t thoroughly worked on, because you open yourself up to all the first draft nit picks that all first drafts have. That being said, be aware that writing takes a lot of time and development, so be open to suggestions about where the piece could go, if it went.

  3. itsy Says:

    Yes, you’re right, Kaitlyn, it’s all about keeping perspective. Sometimes, especially with an early draft and an early writing career, it’s too easy to get lost in what people say when you aren’t quite sure yourself, yet. But instinct should trump all.


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