Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Craft Issue: Gray Space

Recently I gave a couple of presentations at New England SCBWI. One was a discussion of plot, and the other a discussion of the topic of my master’s thesis for Vermont College of Fine Arts, the concept of elision. Over the next few blog posts, I’m going to recap some of the ideas I presented.

Let’s start with elision – and if you’re scratching your head, that’s just what I did when I heard the term for the first time at Vermont. Elision refers to the gaps in writing, to what is not said, to what is left out. I made it the subject of my thesis so that I could get a grasp of what it means and how to use it.

My exploration of the term took me to books like Proust and the Squid, in which author Maryanne Wolf makes a thorough exploration of the relationship between readers and writers and what happens within the reader’s brain during reading. From that study I coined the term “gray space,” by which I meant that place where readers and writers meet that is outside the words on the page. I like to think of it as the writer’s equivalent to the artist’s concept of “white space,” and my own definition of gray space is the shadowy landscape of dreams where writers and readers meet.

Gray space can be created, can be manipulated by writers. It’s something we may not consciously do during first drafting, but certainly can be added/enhanced during revision. Creating gray space is important to increasing tension in writing (adding a layer of mystery and nuance) and is critical in evoking a reader’s emotional response.

In traditional text, gray space is formed by how we use the following rhetorical devices: repetition, word choice, and sentence structure. Dialogue techniques employing gray space include dropped sentences, beats, reversals, and interruptions. In subtext, gray space is created through the use of metaphor, slant telling, and gesture. And writers craft gray space “between the lines” as revealed by the choice of theme, or as Thomas McCormick in The Fiction Editor, the Novel, and the Novelist calls it, the novel’s “master-effect.”

This topic is the subject of an article currently available in the online journal Hunger Mountain, and there I explore it in much greater detail, in case you are curious.

Next time – a bit about plot.


Irene Latham said...

Gosh, Janet, I feel smarter after reading your article at Hunger Mountain. :) Love how your coining of "gray space." It's difficult to put all these things into words, yet you have. Bravo! Will revisit. xo

Janet Fox said...

Thanks, Irene - that's high praise! hugs -

Meg Wiviott said...

Janet - In packet 4 Rita told me I did elision well. Who knew? I'm not even sure I know what it is! So, thanks for this post and the Hunger Mountain article. I'm determined to earn how to use elision deliberately.

Janet Fox said...

Excellent, Meg - that's high praise! Especially from Rita. :)