White Space

I once wrote a novel and sent it to an editor, hoping to get it published. A few months later, I received a standard rejection letter. At the bottom of the page, the editor had scrawled a single sentence:

"Not enough white space!"

Confused, I brought the letter to a friend, a professional writer who has published several novels. I asked her, "What does this mean?"

She explained it something like this:

"White space is the space on the page that is not covered with text. Every time you insert a blank line, you're inserting white space. Basically, the editor is telling you that your paragraphs are too long."

"My paragraphs . . . need more white space?"

"Your pages need more white space. Look, everybody hates reading long blocks of text. Imagine yourself in a book store. You're thumbing through the books, trying to decide which one to buy. You open a book to some random page, and both sides are covered with solid blocks of text, from margin to margin. Are you going to buy that book?"

"Eh . . . no?"

"Of course not! Because you know that book is going to be a hard read. It's going to exhaust you mentally. So you put that book down and leaf through another. And this time you see a lot of white space. The margins are wide; the paragraphs are short, and there's a lot of dialogue—short lines that don't extend all the way across the page. How do you feel now?"

"I guess. . . like it's going to be easier to read?"

"Exactly! Short paragraphs are friendly. Dialogue is friendly. You're going to take that book to the counter and you're going to buy it. Editors know this, and that's why they like white space."

It had never occurred to me that the look of a page might be just as important as the words I write. "So . . . I need to keep my paragraphs short, and add more dialogue?"

"Yes," she said. "Readers don't always know why they choose certain books, at least not on a conscious level. Maybe they like the cover art. Maybe they like the blurb. But editors know that readers also like white space."

I thanked my friend, and I took the editor's advice. And the next time I submitted a manuscript, I sold it.

Instructions for the Quiz

Answer the questions.