The space between the words

I have now finished the first draft of Fred. I cried when I reached the end. I took a moment in the summerhouse to be alone and to feel sad that this part was over. Writing can be really hard, it can be frustrating but it also one of the greatest pleasures in life – or in my life anyway.

Writing endings are different to writing beginnings or middles. The story and characters are set up, and the reader has been on a journey for two or three hundred pages and has built up her own vision. By the end, I want to allow my reader to fill in the spaces between the words. I don’t mean leave an ‘open ending’ in terms of story, but allow the reader room to imagine things herself and be able to fill in the blanks. I think it is more emotionally resonant this way.

In case this seems all rather vague, I’m going to turn to my usual guru: Jane Austen, and in this instance the obsequious Mr Collins. In this scene, Mr Collins is taking Elizabeth Bennet round Rosings Park, and describing the scene in front of them:

“Here, leading the way through every walk and cross walk, and scarcely allowing them an interval to utter the praises he asked for, every view was pointed out with a minuteness which left beauty entirely behind. He could number the fields in every direction, and could tell how many trees there were in the most distant clump.”

‘Pride and Prejudice’ chapter 28.

Mr Collins is not allowing any space between the words. He is describing the scene (which they can see anyway as it’s right there in front of them) in such detail that he ruins it. As a writer, I think one of the hardest thing is knowing how and when to evoke places, people and reactions, and when one needs to leave it to the reader’s imagination and trust them to fill the spaces. As Keats (almost) said ‘hear words are sweet, but those unheard are sweeter’.

Me in a stripey hat.

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4 Comments

Filed under Book 2 - Tyneford Project, from summerhouse to summer read, writer pontification

4 responses to “The space between the words

  1. David Lewis

    Interesting…one could argue actually that there is space between all words in fiction. You cannot be sure that you are evoking exactly this or that in the mind of your reader just because you are using words – every reader reads a different novel, each of which is more or less similar to the one you thought you had written. I would say that the words you chose guide the reader, but, just like spaces between words you mention, the words you use will always have cracks in them, which is not a fault but part of the beauty of subjectivity.

  2. natashasolomons

    Hi David,

    Yes, of course you are right. Yet, there has to be a limit to the spaces between words: for language to work as a communication system there has to be some limit. We all read different versions of a novel, but it is still the same novel. I find Mr Darcy proud yet irresistible, you believe him imperious and humourless. And yet, we still both read a novel set in England in the 1800s and the story is broadly a romance.

    It is the challenge of a writer to try and find exactly the right word and attempt to describe events and characters with a certain precision. I love Seamus Heaney because of this: when he selects a word, it is the perfect word and no other will do.

    I think my point was more that there are times, particularly towards the end of a book, when the reader has taken ownership of the story and that she can read into the silence or spaces without direction from the writer or narrator. It’s about faith in the reader, trusting that they know your characters so well, that they can fill in the silences without you telling them anything much at all.

    Thanks for commenting!
    x

  3. David Lewis

    Hey Tash

    I totally see your point (apologies if I seemed unecessarily devil’s advocate-ish – it’s one of the side effects of being trained as a lawyer!), and to some extent, I suppose using the spaces between words to empower the reader to take ownership as you say towards the end of the novel is a sign that the rest of the novel has captured the reader’s heart enough to engage their imagination to fill in those spaces. I’m very excited to read Mr R and wish you unimaginable success and fun along the way.

    D x

  4. natashasolomons

    That’s alright! Blogs are for playing devil’s advocate… that’s the fun.

    x

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