Negative space

In art, negative space is the space around the subject of the image. It is the shapes created by absence.

In Art class at high school I was rubbish at negative space. I was all about drawing what was there, not seeing what wasn’t there. In reading and writing I feel like my attitude is the exact opposite: I’m all about what’s missing; I don’t see what is there.

As a reader and fledgling reviewer of novels, I find that this focus on the negative space can often lead to negatively-skewed reviews, even for books I enjoy. In a novel, when something is done right it is transparent to the reader. The writing becomes a window straight through onto the story as it plays out in the reader’s imagination. Nobody notices the window. I don’t see the good stuff – I take it for granted. I do see the negative space around the good stuff. I see what’s missing, be it characterisation, clarity, plausibility, or that final proofread.

As a writer I have the same negative-space tendency. When I finished writing the first novel I’d considered fit for self-publishing it was only 39000 words. My goal had been over 50000. I gave my self fifty-thousand-times more kickings over the 11000 words I didn’t write than I gave myself kudos for the 39000 I did write. All this despite the fact I had told the tale I wanted to tell within that word count, the way I wanted to tell it. To get the 50000 words I would have had to write a novel that was 20% padding. This carries over into the process of writing too. If my goal for the day was three scenes and I write only two scenes, that one unwritten scene follows me around all evening and reproaches me.  It is a black hole sucking away my good opinion of myself. It is the negative space that I live in.

Thank <deity_of_choice> for chocolate.

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