Tuesday, September 30, 2008

It's Often What You Don't Say That Counts--A Weekly Writing Exercise about Negative Space

Painters know the concept of “negative space.” I learned it in art school. Negative space is everything that is not the main object in a still life or portrait.
(If you can't imagine this, picture a painter getting ready to capture three yellow apples on a fuscia plate, with blue cloth as background. To the painter, the apples are the main objects. Plate and blue cloth are negative space.)

Negative space is kind of like what's not said in your book.  Sometimes this speaks louder than your words.  The silences, the spaces between things.  The hum of what's unspoken brings more tension.  Especially true for memoir and fiction. 
You have to have the main object and the negative space in constant conversation in a painting; although some experimental artists disagree, I’ve found one doesn’t work as well without the other. The apples in my painting above, without plate or cloth on the table, float in space, unanchored and possibly unbelievable. And without the plate's intense background, the apples' luminous golden color would not be as sharply defined and contrasted. Negative space serves to define and illuminate the main focus.

So it is in book writing.

Consider a chapter of your book-in-progress this week.  List everything that's not being said.  Is it creating absences of tension or omission? 

Then ask yourself about the negative space in your life:  How does your book writing co-exist within your life? Is there a conversation going on?  What kind?  One of harmony and back and forth acceptance?  Or one of conflict, avoidance, irritation?

Spend 10 minutes writing about negative space, both in your book and in the relationship between your life and your writing.