Writer’s Toolbox-Whitespace

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?



I was born in Louisville, Kentucky, but now live in the woods in southern Indiana. Though I only write fiction, I love to read non-fiction. The more I learn about this world, the more fantastic I see it is.

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One thought on “Writer’s Toolbox-Whitespace

  1. KK Brees

    October 18, 2010 at 11:12am

    Good post, Marian. Too many writers underestimate the average reader’s ability to fill in the blank parts and kill them with the info dump.

    Permalink  ⋅ Reply
    • Author

      Marian Allen

      October 18, 2010 at 11:33am

      All too often, I’m guilty as charged! I’m learning, though. 🙂 I’m especially bad about floorplans. What’s weird is, I HATE floorplans in other people’s stories!

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  2. Mary Montague Sikes - Monti

    October 18, 2010 at 8:05pm

    As always, Marian, you have something wise to point out. It’s hard to let go of some amazing facts we’ve discovered in our research. Not a good idea to put everything in…still I try!!!


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