Friday, July 6, 2012


Creating:White Space Magic

One of the most common mistakes I see when I critique
manuscripts is that the paragraphs are too long.

When I see a dense page of text that has only three or
four paragraphs, I suspect the pace is going to be slow
and the writing is going to be boring.

When I see a page with a lot of white space, I suspect
the pace is going to be fast and the writing is going
to have a lot of conflict.

Part of this is just a psychological illusion.

When a reader is reading a scene with a lot of white
space, her eye zips rapidly down the page. Before she
knows it, she's flipping the page, and then the next,
and the next.

White space makes your reader feel like she's flying.

As I said, this is a psychological trick, and by itself
it doesn't mean very much. Pace is about more than
reading pages rapidly.

Pace is about the amount of conflict coming at the
reader on each page.

Fiction thrives on conflict.

Don't confuse conflict with mere physical action.
Conflict is about trading punches, but most often those
punches are verbal or psychological, not physical.

Conflict is a lawyer cross-examining a lying witness.

Conflict is a woman trying to get her man to tell her
what he's really feeling.

Conflict is a baseball player stepping up to the plate
with the tying run on third and facing the league's
toughest pitcher in the final inning of the World

Conflict is about back-and-forth.

You get the least conflict per page when you use a lot
of description, narrative summary, and exposition. All
of these tend to use long paragraphs that focus on a
single thing.

You get the most conflict per page when you have a lot
of action and dialogue and when you alternate rapidly
between characters. Doing that will naturally give you
a lot of short, punchy paragraphs.

The more paragraphs you have, the more white space on
the page.

This isn't complicated, so I'm not going to belabor it.
White space is magic, not because it CAUSES good
writing but because it's an EFFECT of good writing.

If you've got a scene that your critiquers are telling
you is slow and boring, take a look at how much white
space you've got. You probably need more.

Look for every paragraph longer than five lines. Can
you break it up?

It probably has some description or long explanation or
something else that you're certain your reader can't
live without.

Kill it. Get rid of it. Be a brute.

Here is where you protest that you can't do that --
your reader will hate you forever for cutting out that
long horrible explanation about the history of mildew.

Fine, if it's that important, then cut it down to three

But you know in your lying little heart that it's not
that important.

It may be that the paragraph has no description or
explanation at all. In fact, you may believe it's
packed with action. The tiger and the vampire are
locked in a wrestling match to the death.

But if that paragraph is longer than five lines, you're
probably using narrative summary. You're telling your
reader about the fight, rather than showing the fight.

If a fight is worth having in your story, it's worth
showing, punch by punch, snarl by snarl, bite by bite.

Break up that long paragraph into a sequence of actions
and reactions. One paragraph for the vampire, one for
the tiger, back and forth, until you have a victor.

When you do that, you'll naturally produce a lot of
white space.

Your eyes will tell you when you've done enough.

It's possible to go too far, of course.

You don't want to have an entire novel of one-line
paragraphs. White space is wonderful, but there can be
too much of a good thing.

I've seen two writers who used too much white space.
Oddly enough, both of them are best-selling authors.
I've never seen a bad writer use too much white space.

If too much white space is your problem, there's an
easy fix for it. Just add in some interior monologue,
some sensory description, and even an occasional bit of
exposition to fatten up a few paragraphs.

White space is magic. White space is power. You know
the drill. Great power, great responsibility.

Use it well.

This article is reprinted by permission of the author.

Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the
Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced
Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 31,000 readers.
If you want to learn the craft and marketing of
fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to
editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit

Download your free Special Report on Tiger Marketing
and get a free 5-Day Course in How To Publish a Novel.

Feature Fridays run every Friday on this blog. If you want your article to be featured on one of the Feature Fridays, do not hesitate to let me know in the comments section.


  1. Replies
    1. Thanks for stopping by, A. Have a nice day! :)

  2. I love this post! This is my new favorite line, "Kill it. Get rid of it. Be a brute."

    1. Thanks, Robyn. It's definitely one of my favorite lines during the editing process.

      Thanks for stopping by! :)