Elaine Forrestal

Deliberately Leaving Spaces

Even young readers can be trusted to make their own meaning from the stories they read

There is a difference between leaving spaces that invite the reader into the story, allowing them to make up their own minds about events and characters; and leaving gaps in the narrative.

Obviously different readers want different levels of ownership and involvement with what they read. The more imaginative they are themselves, the more they want the freedom and excitement of being invited in to be part of the story. They want to immerse themselves in the actions, the emotions and the lives of the characters without too many interruptions for extra details. They want to cut to the chase, and be trusted to either go back or pass over anything that they don’t immediately understand. Other readers want more spoon-feeding. They want everything spelled out in black and white with no room for questions, doubts, surprises. Catering for different types of readers requires a delicate balancing act on the part of the writer.

Every author and publishing house needs to sell books. And each book must have, not only a powerful story to tell, but a unique way of telling that story. To engage as many readers as possible there must be a certain amount of trust that develops between the reader and the writer. The spaces deliberately left in the text must work for as many and varied readers as possible. Those who want to enter into the story, and see at least some part of themselves reflected there, and those who would rather all the ends were tied up tight. For me it’s a tight wire act that requires, skill, restraint, passion and a good dollop of patience. The last thing I want to do is simply satisfy the expectations and conventions around stories for young people. I want my readers to finish the story with some questions still to ask, some scenes that stick in their minds, ones they puzzle over. At the end of the story I want them to ask ‘I wonder what happened next?’ That way those characters, and that story, will stay with them long after they have closed the book and put it away.

I am grappling with this at the moment, putting the finishing touches on my new book, Goldfields Girl. Wish me luck.