Negative Space in the Creative Process

I realized recently that much of what I create comes about because of what isn’t there. And since I posted about Harry Potter and chiaroscuro, I thought I’d just continue with this whole writing is like visual art thing.

So, negative space. Observe, the light fixture in my kitchen. Or rather, if you’re looking at the parts I’ve colored in, NOT the light fixture in my kitchen:

Yeah, I drew this. There's a reason I'm a writer.

Yeah, I drew this. There’s a reason I’m a writer.

So basically, negative space is the space around an object. It’s a picture made from absence. It’s what we see when we look at what is not there.

If that doesn’t make sense, here’s a Wikipedia article about it. Also, here are some examples by an artist who actually has talent.

So, I was thinking about this and how it applies to my creative process. I don’t know about you guys, but for me, it goes like this:

Hmm… I need to accomplish plot point A, but none of my characters can do it. I need a character. They have to be in a position and of a disposition to achieve plot point A. I also need them to be tiny enough to slip through fence bars and magical enough to cast a sleeping spell on the guard by the door.

Do you see the negative space? I have a lot of limitations, but not the actual character. By looking at the surrounding detail, I can imagine the thing, or in this case, the character, that fits in that space. BAM! Idea explosion! The negative space allows our brains to create.

I don’t know that this has some cool application. It’s more observation than advice. But if you’re stuck, or you’re having issues coming up with inventive things in your spec fic novel, or if you’ve got a hole in your plot, think of the negative space. Look at the surrounding details and see the shape of the thing that should be there. We are most creative, I think, when we’re filling in the blanks.

About Caitlyn McFarland

Mom of three girls, writer of fantasy novels.
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