The statute of limitations on this post has expired!
Note the date: This post was originally published in 2007 and is kept here largely for archival purposes. Anything older than three years may contain ideas and opinions for which such a gap of time has likely reshaped, altered, softened, re-jigged, or otherwise changed those ideas and opinions to a state incongruent with my current existence.
I was listening to a writing podcast the other day and they were talking about doing character development through the use of whitespace. That is to say, by filling in the spaces around a character, one is left with a vacant spot where the character would fit. At first I thought that it seemed like a good idea, but now I think it would be a very difficult thing to do. For example, define yourself through whitespace…
Those Random Vacancies Are Oh-So-Obvious, Yes?
The sheets were rumpled, pushed aside. By the time the sun rose and peeked through the gaps in the blinds, it shone free and unhindered on a tossed pillow who’s surface still bore the cratered impression of its missing skull. Just beyond, out a crack in the doorway, a trail of flicked switches illuminated the path from the bedroom to the kitchen. There the last few sips of a cup of gourmet coffee, the extra sweetness of the unstirred sugar lingering at the bottom, was still resting on the edge of the counter where it had been forgotten just moments earlier.
See what I did there? I’m not claiming license to some great masterwork, but you can probably read into the vague impressions of a whitespace silhouette, no? The idea is that the character (in the above example it’s me on a Saturday morning) is not so much described by what he’s doing, but rather by the traces of what he didn’t do or the vacancies he left; My pillow was empty. I’d left a half drunk cup of coffee on the counter. I didn’t really say much, but the reader is (ideally) given the impression of a nuanced character through the descriptions of NOT the character, but rather the things around the character.
As I said at the beginning, it IS quite difficult. I reworked that example five or six times, and I’m still not sure that I nailed it. But alas, I have been thinking a lot lately about particular kinds of writing exercises that might stimulate some interesting fiction over the next year or so — what with those crazy New Years Resolutions and all. This particular example caught my eye and I thought I’d share it.