Tuesday, September 6, 2016

White Space: Beyond Show and Tell

"Show, don't tell," authors often hear, while another camp counters with, "You must have a good balance between show and tell."

I've shared my thoughts in past blogs (links below).

Visual artists know the concept of "white space" (also referred to as negative space), the area around the illustration in a design or painting to highlight the depiction or give reset to the eyes. In music, silence is often called white space. In publishing, it's the unmarked parts of pages. In acting, it's the dramatic pauses, the non-movements that underscore the speaking and motions.

It's effective in writing, too, especially for underscoring, tension, foreshadowing, and strong emotion. It's the moment when all action, talking, and even thinking cease.

Here's a couple of somewhat similar examples from Before the Blood:

No sooner had the carriage door closed when John said, "I'm not playing for Jacob King."

Kellen seized John by the throat, shoved him against the cushions, and hissed, "You'll do as you're told!"

John pried his fingers between his neck and Kellen's steel grasp.

"Kill me." John's strangled voice was firm. "I'm not playing."

Exasperated at this latest defiance, Kellen let go and threw up his hands. John, gasping, loosed his collar and rubbed life back into his neck.

Did dog owners have this trouble?

"Humor me, John," Kellen said in a tone that clearly conveyed he didn't find this recent objection humorous. "Why not?"

"I won't play for my father's associates."

Abbott King again!

God damn it! Think, Kellen, think.

Ponder, ponder, ponder, ponder, ponder, ponder, ponder, ponder, ponder, ponder.

"John, I'm hurt you could even think it. Playing for your father's associates? The idea!"

Still rubbing, but breathing normally now, John looked at Kellen with curious surprise.

"You told Jacob King..."

"...that you would play for his daughter, Agnes. Jacob's solution was tomorrow night's dinner party. Can I help that Jacob King frolics in the same toy room as your father?"

John said nothing. Feeling triumphant, Kellen switched to wheedling.

"You wouldn't disappoint such a lovely young lady, the beloved fiancee of your good friend, would you?"

"Agnes is indeed lovely," John said quietly, "a rare soul, angelic and pure."

"Well, there you have it..."

"She doesn't deserve what she's getting."'

"She doesn't deserve a concert by the celebrated and internationally acclaimed John Simons?"

John leaned against the cushions and closed his eyes. "I'll play."

It was a quiet ride back to the Savoy. 

(Before the Blood, Kellen's Story, Chapter 9: The Suite Life)

Soon, they were settled near the fire in Lawrence's private parlor.

            "Albert and I usually stay in New York through the holidays. The distraction soaks up my inevitable pining for former days. But this year, I don't know, Nephew, this year, I wanted to spend that time with you."

            "Yes, Uncle."

            Lawrence remained erect, but his face over the tea cup looked troubled. "You don't understand, do you?"

            "Forgive my ignorance, Uncle. I do not."

            "Have you never celebrated Christmas or the turning of the year?"


            Lawrence turned pale. He sipped and then softly said, "Louise loved holidays."


            Henry's hands shook so hard he had to set down the tea cup and willed the trembling to stop. His innards churned with bitter anger.

            He knew holidays: the changing of the decor in shop windows. Any day Henry's stomach didn't growl with hunger, and his lungs worked as they ought was a holiday.


             Sure they celebrated, any time Harold stole pickles and other delights from Mrs. Variola's store.

            He dug his nails into the chair's arms, so great was the urge to shout those words. He wanted to shatter the rich little girl image of his mother his uncle persisted in keeping, a beautiful little girl Henry never met.    

            But Lawrence look so distressed with his quivering lips and crumpled face that Henry, despite his own heartache, couldn't bring himself to do it.

            Silently, they finished their tea.

(Before the Blood, Henry's Story, Chapter 6: Haute Coutre)

For more on show and tell, check out these links:

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