Sunday, January 24, 2010

White Spaces

I've just come back from my second Residency at VCFA, better thought of as the magical and mystical Brigadoon, rising out of Montpelier twice a year. The drive to Vermont in winter is exquisitely beautiful and nearly magical. Trees dusted with powdered sugar snow, icicles sparkling in the sun, and signs warning "Moose Crossing Next 15 miles" add to the magical atmosphere. (In New Jersey, deer are as common as pigeons - hardly as magical as a moose.)

During the 10-day Residency we talked a lot about white spaces - what is not specifically written, but what happens off scene, between the lines, where the reader is allowed to imagine. Sometimes, allowing the reader to imagine a scene is more powerful than specifically showing the scene. For example, VCFA's newest faculty member A.M. Jenkins read a scene from her book BEATING HEART, "This time it's in Carrie's room, on her bed. Afterward, he rolls over onto his back while she tucks herself up against him, letting one finger play over his chest."* It's a sex scene. Did you miss it? What happens between the word "bed" and "afterward" is left to the reader. How magical is that?

Trusting the reader to fill in gaps is a powerful tool, which when used appropriately, can make the writing stronger. It's a skill I hope to use in my own writing.

But thinking about white spaces, especially in Vermont in January, makes me think of the white space of our VCFA campus (pictured above) and all the magic that occurs during the Residency. In the intense ten days spent on the VCFA campus atop its hill in Montpelier, magic does happen. Friendships are made, mentors are discovered, trust is inherent.

And then, I cannot help but make the leap to the white space between Residencies, the six months which occur "off scene" when students return to their lives and homes (many much further away from Vermont than New Jersey) and yet are still magically connected to VCFA through five packet installments due to our advisors every three to four weeks. The work that occurs in these "white spaces" is truly magical for it is when we as writers use all that we have learned at the Rez, from our lectures and workshops, and from communing with other writers over meals in the NECI cafeteria, and through evenings spent unwinding in the Pit.

My advisor this semester is Alan Cuymn author of seven adult books and three books for children. I am looking forward to working with Alan to see what magic occurs in the white space of my second semester.

*Jenkins, A. M. Beating Heart: A Ghost Story. New York: HarperCollins, 2006. Print. p 91.


  1. Meg:
    The excerpt from BEATING HEART is a wonderful example of white space. I've added that book to my TBR list.

    It really shows how skillful editing is like sculpting -- every word fits. I honestly can't wait to get to that point in my WIP.

  2. I believe in trusting the reader. Everything doesn't have to be spelled out. And the way we view the white space differs. We can read the exact same book, and even though some things are strongly implied, we may still imagine the scenes differently in our heads.

  3. Oh, that picture is gorgeous. It snowed here and when we left, my son goes, "It looks like a different world." And it did. Beautiful.

  4. A sex scene so brief, you could easily miss it? I agree, it works wonderfully in this book. In real life, uh, not so much. ;-)

  5. JA - BEATING HEART is a great read, skillfully written and intriguing.

    Medeia - Trusting your reader is tantamount! And yes, because different readers bring different baggage with them, each can imagine the scene as their experiences allow them.

    Elana - Oh, it was beautiful. Even if you don't like snow and cold.

    J.L. - What's true in life is not always true in fiction.

  6. Gorgeous picture!
    What an amazing place to sit and take it all in!

  7. Kelly, yes, it is a beautiful place and if it weren't so danged cold up there, it would be a pleasure to sit and take it all in. As it was, I tried to absorb as much of the beauty as possible from inside the nice warm building!

  8. Meg - Great post!

    JL - *giggle* you're too funny!