Earlier today, I read a blog post by my dear friend Marsha Mason, the latest in a series for Why The Face. In today’s post, she touched on the subject of use of white space in writing, whether a screenplay, query letter, whatever.
“The goal of white space,” she explains, “is to never be at the detriment of your story…but to force you to condense, to economize, to pack as much punch as you can into less.”
I agree with her conclusion, but question if the goal of white space isn’t so much bigger.
For the uninitiated, white space is literally the empty space between lines of text and/or images, the complete absence of content which appears white on the printed page or computer screen.
As I suggested in my response to Marsha’s post, I have worked for several years in careers such as magazine publishing, web design, advertising and now screenwriting, and in all that time, I have found that white space is easily the least understood and most underutilized aspect of creativity.
For whatever reason, people seem to believe that an absence of something is an absence of work. Marsha’s comment about the need to be concise and economical in your word choice partly puts the lie to this conjecture, but it doesn’t go far enough.
We live our lives like we fill our pages, with mostly useless things designed to ground us but which, in fact, anchor us and restrict our movement. It is a restriction that we accept voluntarily and without which many of us could not function, or at least fear we couldn’t.
At this moment, I have five browser windows open and yet am ignoring all but one, and only because that one is playing music. And at the same time that I write this post, my mind is on several other posts and some projects I am neglecting.
Nature abhors a vacuum. True. But think of the greater image.
More than 99.99999% of the known universe is actually NOTHING! Only the absence of ubiquitous light keeps it from being literally white space.
In screenwriting, white space is there to let your reader run free with his or her own interpretation of your work. Restrict their thoughts with clutter, and they resist. Prevent their thoughts with too much specificity, and they disengage.
Let your story breathe, as you yourself should. Your readers will be happier for it. And so will you be.
(Image is property of owner; I stole it.)