I’ve been watching home improvement and renovation shows from England, Scotland, Ireland, and France recently. Research? What doesn’t count as research for a writer or someone who cares about her author clients? But primarily, I’ve been watching for entertainment and as an educational experience. And traveling virtually, which doesn’t involve a passport.
My latest binge watching has been Irish homes-of-the-year. What a wide variety of possibilities. Grand Georgian-inspired mansions are pitted against dry-stack stone cottages with hair-brushing low ceilings and character oozing out of the floorboards. Or was that moss? Ultra-modern sculptural homes seem to blend into the hillside as if chiseled from it, offering expansive views of a sea that looks alternately calming on sunny days and menacing in high winds and rain.
Some homes that score high with designer judges are far too cluttered for my tastes. Maybe that’s a recent development after having worked on a novel about hoarders. Or I personally find the homes too stark to feel homey (the Brits would call that homely, but I’m not sure I could ever get used to that synonym). On the other hand, resisting “too stark” may be related to what it takes to keep an all-white house spotless.
I can feel myself breathing more easily when the camera angle shows wide open spaces. An uncluttered room or an open floor plan or a room with large windows and a view of lush countryside beyond. A home that offers breathing room.
Do you offer breathing room in your writing?
Tastes in text-breathing room have changed over the centuries. At one time, paper and printing costs meant the text of a book filled edge to edge on the page. Narrow, if any, margins. No division of paragraphs. Reader eyesight suffered or readers got lost in the text. But publishers crammed as much as they could into the fewest pages possible without dropping a word. That style no longer works for today’s readers.
The pace of life, the volume of words in front of us every day, attention spans, and tired brains mean we find a sense of “home” when we open a book that allows us to breathe.
What does breathing room in a book (or a proposal) look like?
Shorter paragraphs. Another side benefit of shorter paragraphs is that important information or storytelling doesn’t get buried in the elbow-to-elbow collection of words. The reader subconsciously sees the paragraph as an easy literary hill to conquer, even if it contains a complex concept.
Occasional single-sentence or single word paragraphs. That technique can grow tiresome. But used sparingly, a single-sentence paragraph can make as strong a point as if it were printed in bold on the page.
Breathing room is visible on the page?
Dialogue (for fiction). From an overhead drone view, it’s easy to see how dialogue offers the reader breathing room. Fast paced as it might be, dialogue moves the story along and offers actual visual space on the page. White space. Good storytellers sense where well-placed dialogue can not only communicate better than a page of narrative can, but when it’s needed for reader-brain elbow-room.
Laser-focus (for nonfiction). Rabbit trails and rambling in nonfiction have the same effect as a crammed-full curio cabinet or a closet that threatens avalanche. When a writer’s points are clearly focused (both in the proposal stage and in the book itself), everyone breathes more easily.
Shorter chapters. Where once a reader might have stayed engaged for twenty or thirty pages per chapter, these days, that can feel like too massive a commitment. A reader with limited time to invest in reading–or so they think–may shy back from tackling a chapter that takes too long to make and support its point.
What’s missing in an overcrowded book or book proposal?
Pondering space. You may have noticed on talk radio stations that back-to-back half-hour or hour long programs allow for little time to process what you’ve heard. Soon a new host comes on, switching gears to another topic entirely. You as a listener may have been brought to an action point or a thought that needed further consideration. But unless you turn off the radio, thinking time is swallowed up by another subject. In a book, that can sometimes be remedied by actual page space for reflection, a concluding chapter thought that encourages the reader to process before moving on, or (in a novel) a break in the intensity that keeps the story’s conflict simmering but not boiling dry.
What other methods have you noticed that offer you as a reader or as a writer breathing room, an open-concept feel, room with a view? Or does the fact that you haven’t noticed page clutter prove the point?