The Spaces Between - Great Stories Are More Than Words

Ever notice how many of the most important things in life are often the things left unstated? How communication is more about the things you do before and after words than what you actually say? Sure, saying I love you is a big deal, but it's a lot bigger deal if it's followed by a kiss. You can tell someone you're angry or you can say you're angry and throw something at them. Which one do you think gets the point across more effectively?

I think good storytelling is a lot like that. 

It really struck me this weekend while talking books with some friends. The conversation consistently turned to a discussion of things implied by the actions of characters in the story rather than what was actually written on the pages. Don't get me wrong the words are important; without them there'd be nothing to infer from or to fuel the debate. However, I think I've underestimated just how much a reader likes to put themselves--and conversely, their own reasoning--into a story. 

I'll confess, the idea that what readers really get into is being able to fill in the gaps of a story rather than simply enjoying what is ACTUALLY written has probably been a tad complex for my mind to truly wrap around. I guess I've kind of had a rather simple, neanderthal-esque writing mindset of, "ME WRITE WORDS. YOU READ WORDS." 

Moreover, the concept of people intellectualizing beyond the words has always seemed a little highbrow or lit snobby to me. The stuff for writers, graduate programs, term papers and History Chanel specials to discuss. After all, the reader in me always really enjoyed the reading, appreciating what the author was communicating over implications. 

So it's not surprising that I reasoned that Twilight fan just consumed the story and could care less about deeper meanings and character intentions, right? 

W.R.O.N.G. You're everyday Joe or Susan reader loves to take stories to places beyond the margins. They constantly scrutinize Bella Swan's love choices and wonder what might have happened if Harry Potter had joined Slytherin instead of Gryffindor. Furthermore, the average reader loves to draw parallels between the lives of fictional characters and their own lives. 

As a writer here's the scary part; that's stuff that no author could contrive no matter how carefully they plot. J.K. Rowling could have had no idea that I'd be able to see my own family in the Weasley's. Nor could she have known that so many kids would feel Harry's pain and joy on such an intensely personal level to the point they write stories about his grandchildren in the form of fan fiction. 

I guess I'm saying that great stories are more than what they are on paper. It's those spaces between the words that hold the real power of a story. In the end, words are really just coal to fuel the fires of the imagination. Perhaps the real challenge in writing is learning how to create the spark to set it all off. 



  1. Wow, this is an awesome post. You are so right. Everyone brings their own life, and experiences. I had this realization the other night, when my SIL argued with me about An Affair to Remember. It's her favorite love story, and I think it's a load of crap. But, she explained how she relates to the woman in the story. How she wants to fix the guy. The light went off.

  2. Well said, EJ!

    When a story comes together and it's good... it really takes on a life of its own.

  3. I believe you are right my friend.

  4. That's the beauty of literature, isn't it? We all interpret stories in such different ways, unique to our own experiences. I think it's good if writers leave enough room for readers to fill in those empty spaces with their imaginations. Good post!

  5. And sometimes people see things you don't want imagined.

  6. It is amazing that each person can have a different experience with the same book. I also find for books that I go back and re-read my experience is different each time I go back.

  7. Wow. Great post. I guess the spark ignites the fire that makes them buy lots of books! LOL

  8. your family is like the Weasley's?! color me jealous. ;)
    - the other EJ

  9. This is so so true, EJ! It's my fave part of watching movies--trying to figure out what's happening beyond the dialog. As writers we are reminded to trust the intelligence of the audience and not spell everything out. Because readers ARE quick and like to think they're smart too. ;)
    This whole writing biz is pretty tricky when it's all been said and done. lol
    Excellent post, my friend!

  10. More often than not though, I think a writer knows what he is putting down in his or her words. If they don't, then that just seems suspicious to me. Like...this is just a happy or unfortunate accident? Stand behind your writing in my opinion. At least Orson Scott Card (example) does not hide from the fact that he's a raging bigot.

  11. So true E.J. - That's the beautiful thing about literature. Better than TV or Movies - your mind is what transports you as you envision and relate.

    That's also what makes writing so challenging - making your characters different, yet relate-able.


“Much unhappiness has come into the world because of bewilderment and things left unsaid.” ― Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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