Monday, June 28, 2010

White Space

With the World Cup monopolizing attention, one might think my title is a nod to the rest of the news, perhaps the Elena Kagan hearings and the Waspish opening up of the Ivy League schools 50 years earlier, that presaged this outcome with no Protestants on the Supreme Court. Or the irony in that we seem to be deeply into counting the religion of each Justice as we conclude that it doesn't matter for deciding the cases presented to the Court.

Lanny wearing a Iowa Summer Writing Festival Hat
Actually, the title refers to something I learned last week at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. (If you squint hard at the cap in the photo you can see the insignia there.) Among my lessons were that writing teachers like to draw a lot as a way to illustrate the dynamic in the construction of the writing and in the interplay between the writer and the reader. Another lesson was to take your printed-on-hard-copy-essay, arrange the pages on the floor, then stand on a chair so that none of the text is readable, but so that the pattern the text makes on the page emerges. One extreme is for the text to be very dense on the page. The other extremes is for - you guessed it - there to be a lot of white space.

The absence of text communicates.

The idea is that while the writer is a guide, the reader has to do her fair share of the work. Good writing recognizes this role for the reader. The canonical example is the shower scene in Psycho. It is all the more frightening because Hitchcock left the really gory stuff to our own imaginations.

The question arises whether this requires a paper version of the essay or if it makes sense in a blog too. Would people read longer work online if there were suitable spacing to allow for the reader to give her contribution? And then, what stuff should the writer explicitly include and what should be left out, for the reader to fill in?

I suspect this particular post will look awkward. But might others explore the idea to find a way it works well online? Once the reader is expected to scroll to read the piece there seems little cost in putting in the white space. What of the gain?


Anonymous said...

I took your challenge Lanny. A different visual representation of your WHITE SPACE post, made with my new favorite presentation tool.

Lanny Arvan said...

Very slick, James. We've got some Prezi fans down here. I wonder if others will take to it.