The Blank Spaces In Our Stories: The Messages Writers Send Readers Between the Words

 

By Kym-n-Mark Todd

As writers, we all spend lots of time thinking about narrative craft – plot, character, setting, dialog – but what about the blank spaces between all those words?

Readers don’t give much thought to those spaces – unless they’re missing. So it’s up to writers to fill the blanks with implied meaning. And it’s part of the unwritten “contract” we create every time we ask a reader to invest storytime with us.

Part 3 – The Blank Spaces between Books: Why we break or conclude a stand-alone story or conclude one arc as a book in a multi-book series

We’ve all seen them. They populate Amazon’s best-selling lists, or the host of suggestions on Goodreads, or the rankings in Publishers Weekly.

Series are an ever increasing trend, and not just the three-book deal. Try five books, or ten, or more.

And it’s the spaces between the suffixed listings of “#1,” “#2,” #3,” ad infinitum that add to the story – or rather, the promise of a premise much larger than a single story can contain.

When we wrote the first Silverville Saga book, Little Greed Men, we intended our story as a one-off, a stand-alone. And we maintain there’s nothing wrong with an autonomous tale. The space after a stand-alone – literal and implied – that follows the terminal announcement of “The End” tells its own message: The story arc is done, the world expressed, the characters sufficient unto a single novel.

When a reader picks up such a novel from the book or library shelf, noticing no sequels rest in slots on either side, there’s a certain writer-reader contractual understanding that announces, “All bets are off.” The protagonist may perish or the world end. The blank space at the end is reserved to ponder the reading just finished, perhaps to wonder what might happen next, but in any event preserving the reader’s prerogative to interpret the close of the story however that reader wants. The author doesn’t usurp the reader’s forward-imagining suppositions with a sequel.

But sequels – and prequels – offer the cadre of a story’s fans an undeniable opportunity to reenter a cherished world, to revisit character-friends, and to experience some of the things readers best liked about the previous tale.

Our first Silverville book went through two successful editions, and each time the small-press publisher urged us to consider a sequel. But we were wary. We didn’t want to write a same-song/second verse follow-up to the original, and we felt we’d said what we wanted to say the first time. It wasn’t until that press closed its operation and gave us back the book that we reconsidered – and then only because the new press who bid for the book wanted a sequel.

Our solution? We finally realized that one of the most important characters of that book was the fictitious setting – the town of Silverville itself, a seemingly ordinary place that punched holes in the mundane reality of its inhabitants and visitors. And if we’d told one version of what that place could do to a particular set of characters, we could create other scenarios for characters with different agendas. We locked in on the words that now appear on the covers of all the books: “Silverville, where anything is possible.”

We’d discovered the promise of a premise that could sustain a muti-novel series.

In our case, we feel we haven’t abandoned the blank space at the end of each story because we still write each book as a stand-alone. But we’ve also compromised a bit, allowing certain larger story arcs to overlap from book to book or bringing back certain characters we like or even love to hate.

If Silverville Saga (now dubbed) #1 considers the possibility of interaction with extraterrestrials, then Silverville Saga #2 All Plucked Up delves into a curse, Silverville #3 The Magicke Outhouse explores the consequences of time-travel, and Silverville Saga #4 Colorado Boo(m) Town brings on the chaos of inter-dimensional ghosts.

The blank spaces between the separate novels let a reader drop into our “Silververse” between any ending and any beginning of any story, but the anything-is-possible premise is our implied promise for the entire series.

We’ve tried to do the same with this three-part blog series: The overarching premise is blank spaces around the ever larger blocks of words that we and all writers assemble. But each of the parts requires a different approach since each has distinctive implications.

The next time you write a sentence, a section, a chapter, a book, or a series, remember to think about the messages you send your readers when you place blank spaces outside your word

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By day, Kym is a graphic designer, Mark a writing teacher and director of Western State College University’s MFA program in Creative Writing; by night, they’re caped crusa – er, writers. They collaborate on the paranormal adventure-comedy Silverville Saga series, including Little Greed Men, All Plucked Up, The Magicke Outhouse (forthcoming next month), and Colorado Boo(m) Town (forthcoming in late 2014) – all published by Raspberry Creek Books. Mark is also author of the SF novel, Strange Attractors – A Story about Roswell, and two collections of poetry, Wire Song and Tamped, But Loose Enough to Breathe.

 

6 thoughts on “The Blank Spaces In Our Stories: The Messages Writers Send Readers Between the Words

  1. Patricia Stoltey

    Another excellent post, Mark and Kym, and with perfect timing as I contemplate my NaNoWriMo project for this year. I like the idea of using a setting as the link between the books in a loose series of standalones. Setting can be a wonderful character.

    Reply
    1. Kym-n-Mark Todd

      Thanks, so much, Patricia. And we certainly agree about the setting angle. It’s let us use old characters or intro new ones as main characters with impunity while still feeling like we weren’t letting our readers down. Thanks for hosting our articles. It’s been fun connecting with a new set of folks we should have long before now!

      Reply
  2. Julie Luek

    I liked how you did this in your book. Even though I hadn’t read the previous books, I knew they were connected in setting and a few references to past experiences, but the book still read well as a stand-alone (although it did whet my appetite to go read the previous books now!).

    Reply
    1. Kym-n-Mark Todd

      Hi, Julie, glad your appetite was whetted. We’ve tried hard to make sure each book in the series is a stand-alone, but we also tried to build on and take advantage of subtle insider jokes that mean more for those who’ve read others in the series.

      And since the first book, LITTLE GREED MEN, was reissued with the publisher for the subsequent books in the series, we even went back and placed foreshadowing in the first one for those that follow. Now *that* was a treat to us.

      Thanks for having us in this excellent blog!

      Reply
  3. ML Swift

    Hey M&Kw/aY!

    Great explanation on the importance of those blank spaces, whether it’s “That’s all, fffolks” or “You’ll be drooling for the next one.” Both are necessary for the reader to know beforehand. And when a stand-alone becomes a series (like yours has), it really makes them want it. “I thought it was over, but here’s more! Yay!”

    Reply
    1. Kym-n-Mark Todd

      Thanks, Michael, for dropping by. Actually, we didn’t know the first book in the series was any more than a stand-alone until it was in print for a while. Then we wanted to make sure we did something more than just “same song, second verse.” At the same time, we were afraid of disappointing fans who liked what happened in that first one. Tricky, very tricky. But we managed, we think, to walk that narrow space because most readers ,whew!> did say “Yay!” :)

      Reply

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