Writing Between the Lines

by Matthew Lowes

between the lines

Photograph by Helgi Halldorsson

Description is boring … or so people say. Few people want to read page after page detailing the intricacies of a landscape or a room, or cataloging the attributes of character, however interesting they may be. But how then do good writers convey their settings and characters so well that we feel as if we were there, or that we knew exactly what a character looks like? It helps to change your perspective on what is really going on.

If you think of description as something that happens only within the lines of your text, and that only that which is included will be experienced by the reader, you are missing the point. The text is only a signpost used to orient the reader’s imagination, and allow it to engage properly. The real magic is happening between the lines. So it helps to think of description not as description, but as evocation. The words are like a spell creating the dream image of a place or a person in the imagination of the reader. Too many words and the dream will collapse, too few, or not the right ones, and the dream will not arise.

So the trick is not to describe a setting or character, but to evoke the setting or character. Just by changing the way you think about this, you will likely discover, all on your own, new effective ways of doing this. With just a short line of dialogue an entire character can be evoked. With a few choice details an entire setting can be evoked. You can’t describe everything, but you can evoke everything if you write not just for what’s in the lines, but what’s between the lines.

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