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Sound and Silence: Utilizing White Space in Writing

by Willy Doehring, River co-editor

The “Writer’s Workshop” blog posts are meant to be a collage of writer’s tips, tricks, and strategies, including the first steps to publishing, writing prompts, strategies for writer’s block, and a general jumble of ideas to help you in your quest to create and publish.


As a writer, it’s easy to forget that the words you write aren’t the only thing that a reader sees on the page. Until recently, the white space on a page was never something that I payed much attention to; it wasn’t until some more recent forays into poetry and nonfiction that I realized the importance of white space on the page, and how that space can influence the writing it surrounds.

Of course, when talking about white space means that we are, to some extent, talking about form. As I already mentioned, I became interested in the importance of white space as I read more books of poetry and nonfiction, which I believe are more experimental genres when it comes to form. Of course, it’s possible to write a short story or novel that doesn’t follow the traditional paragraph format, but it’s probably going to a lot harder to find a press willing to accept that kind of work (not to dissuade any experimental fiction writers, do your thing!).

The most important thing to remember when it comes to playing with form is that the form you choose must also have a function. A poem might look cool if you spread the lines all over the page, but unless that form adds something to the meaning of the poem it will end up being a distraction. With this in mind, what can working with white space add to your writing?

I like to think of the white space on a page as the silence between each word; in this way, a writer can essentially add difference amounts of silence to a piece of writing. There is usually one space between each word we write, but what happens if there is more space between two words? Try reading these two sentences aloud:

  1. Form must also have a function.
  2. Form must also         have                a function.

This is a fairly basic example, of course, but the difference between the two is noticeable. When a writer adds these longer spaces, they are essentially controlling the pace at which the reader reads. As a writer, this opens up a whole new realm of possibilities; adding spaces between the words of a poem can place extra emphasis on each word, or on certain specific words. Perhaps the play between sound (the words) and silence (the white space) creates its own symbolic meaning in your work, adding to the overall meaning of your work. When used right, a writer can even use white space to influence how a reader breathes while reading a piece!

Playing with white space (and with form in general) is all about experimentation; think about how your work will be read, and how spacing out certain parts of your writing can add a new dimension to your piece. It’s a interesting space to play around in as a writer, especially since it can be easily overlooked.

Have fun with it, and until next time— happy writing!

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