Maureen Kauzlarich

Children's Author

(Not So) Negative Space in Writing

What is negative space and why should you care? Artists who draw know this as the space on the page that you don’t use (or so the viewer may think). It is the background around the subject. For writers, negative space is the words on the page that you don't say. Writing in the negative space can hook readers even more than the positive space (which makes it not so negative). Here's how.



Reading Between the Lines

Books that hook readers don't always have every little detail about the setting or characters. It's in these books that we find compelling prose because the backstory is more interesting than the present story. Readers also get to fill in the blanks with their own personal experiences and imagination. They may be reading what the author wrote, but they are questioning all the happenings the author didn't write as well. All the things the character is pointing out in their room, for example, makes us wonder why they don't care about the monster in the closet. It's all about seeing the words but also seeing the implied message.



It's not only in mystery books that we want mystery. Think of thriller books where the character is actively running away from a killer. We're in the head of the character who is freaking out, but something quite isn't right about what the character is thinking. At the end of the chase, it turns out to be the delivery guy trying to give the character a package. It's in the details left unsaid or the details that are purposely highlighted that surprise the reader and leave them wanting more. Suspense, drama, and emotions are all caught up in the negative space.


Saying Two Things at Once

When an author is saying one thing, but it can also mean another to the character or reader, they are also using negative space. Think of optical illusions where there's a picture within the picture. An image is also seen in the negative space. It's in the background that the main character could have a different meaning than what they're actively saying. It's in the background that the real killer lurks or the monster in the closet has the answer. The negative space makes writing and art interesting.



Tell us, have you ever used negative space in your writing? 

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