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Friday writing prompt

On creating space.

Writers I work with are sometimes frustrated with their writing because, although they know what they want to say, they can see that their draft somehow falls short of saying it. They're struggling to work out what they should add to make it work. In fact, when we look closely at the draft, it usually turns out that what they need is already in there. The problem is that it's buried, compressed or crowded out by stuff that doesn't need to be there or that needs a separate space of its own. Sometimes the writer has dropped the important thing in and then hurried on so quickly that the reader has no time to notice or understand its importance.

The nervous public speaker rushes through their speech afraid, perhaps, that no one will really be interested and that the best thing is to reach the end as quickly as possible. They might stuff their speech with too many ideas, believing that the thing they actually need to say will disappoint. The unconfident writer does the same thing, crowding their prose on the one hand, leaving important ideas undeveloped on the other. It takes confidence, even audacity, to stand on stage and pause before speaking, to engage your audience by saying little, to leave space for an idea to resonate before introducing the next one. It's the same for writers communicating with their readers.

By having the confidence to slow down and create space in your writing, you will involve your reader and things will start to work. Don't leave something all sealed up if you want the reader to know what's inside. Open it up, sentence by sentence to show us. Turn the lights on so we can see it better. Lingering in a moment tells the reader that the moment is an important one so why go charging through? Create space in which to unpack ideas and imagery, explore memory and feelings, heighten atmosphere, ambiguity and tension. The murkiest of drafts will reveal bright, brilliant things.

Use sentence structure and punctuation to shape your space. If you crowd a single sentence with two or three ideas, we might not hear any of them clearly. If you separate these into two or three sentences, we'll hear them all one by one (and you'll be able see better whether you actually need them all). Listen to the sound a full stop makes. Usually the word right before it is the one that keeps ringing and the same applies to the last sentence of a paragraph, the last paragraph of a chapter. These are spaces where you lean on your ideas and let you reader absorb them. But you can put space anywhere. You can build a pocket of space into the middle of a paragraph if that's where it needs to be.

Write the story that leads to the scene in the picture below. Give everything time and plenty of space.


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