Whitespace is a term for what you leave out. I think I just invented that usage, because it usually means blank parts of a page with text and/or images on it.
Some people can’t stand to leave any silence in a room, and suck it all up with the vacuum of small talk. Sometimes they fill it with, heaven help me, personal details that I wouldn’t tell a priest in another state who didn’t speak my language, much less a stranger.
Well, anyway, there’s one difference between writing a novel and writing a short story: a short story has more whitespace.
In a novel, you can use (note that I said USE, not CRAM IN) background on your setting, time period and characters. In a short story, you can only suggest most of that.
Even in a novel, it is well to remember that “exhaustive detail”, as in “thoroughly researched and thoroughly reported”, comes from the same root as “exhausting”. Just because you became fascinated with the medical properties intrinsic to the chemical composition of the clay potters in Mesopotamia doesn’t mean your readers need to know that UNLESS IT’S IMPORTANT. Put it in the endnotes, if you must. I’ll find it there. That’s the kind of stuff I eat up with a spoon, but most readers don’t want it, don’t need it, get bored and irritated with it. I do keep running across fellow MOBY DICK fans, but we’re few and far between.
So remember, kids, Mr. Whitespace is our friend. Use him wisely.
WRITING PROMPT: Write a thorough description of something. How much can you cut out and still give a sense of what you’re describing?