I read two different mysteries recently, by two different authors. One had an initial murder that drove the story, interesting characters, and a complex, convoluted plot. The other had an initial murder that drove the story, interesting characters, and a complex, convoluted plot.
One story had me reaching out for the next in the series, while the other made me recall the laundry that awaited and the dishes that needed to be done.
As I sorted, folded, washed, and dried, I tried to figure out what made one story work and the other miss the mark. I was interested in both, I felt invested with the characters in both, but with one, I didn’t want the story to end and with the other I couldn’t wait to finish and return the book the the library.
The answer, I think, is in the white space.
Perhaps I should explain.
At the recent RWA conference, one of the workshops I attended talked about creating book covers to capture and hold a prospective reader’s interest. There were many cover examples shown, and one of the things on the “don’t do this” list was: don’t try to cram too many graphics and different fonts and information on a cover. You want a balance of colors, images, and fonts, with ample white space so the reader’s eye flows where you want it to go, rather than flickering wildly around the cover and possibly missing the whole point.
It’s the same thing you learn in photography classes when framing images and even quilting classes when laying out patterns. Images (and patterns) can go from nice to wow! with the prudent use of a little white space.
When I thought more about the story that didn’t work for me, I realized that there was basically no “white space.” The story was jammed packed with action and details and sub-plots and misdirection. There were swaths of description of terrain and movement that I struggled (often unsuccessfully) to visualize.
There was no time, during the course of the story, to catch my breath. It was like riding a roller-coaster that was nothing but one long long drop down.
Exciting, but part of the fun of a roller-coaster is the transition from up to down to twisting around. The contrast is what makes it all work and makes you want to ride again.
I think that’s why that second story didn’t work. After a while, the long long drop down became too much and I just wanted the story to finish whooshing by so I could disembark and go recuperate somewhere quiet and calm.
That may just be me though.
Judging from the reviews the book garnered on Goodreads, there are a number of readers out there who where quite happy with the rush of the story.
So, how about you? Are you a fan of non-stop, densely written stories or do you prefer a little more white space?