Yes, we need white space

By Jerry Bellune, Writing Coach

In a black and white movie, you want shadow and light.

In a color movie, you want vibrant colors.

Without these, they would be unwatchable movies.

The same is true of your own writing – and reading.

You want short words, short sentences, short paragraphs.

This builds white space into your prose.

This may not be cancer surgery but in some ways it is.

Surgeons aim to remove diseased – not healthy – tissue. 

We aim to rewrite and cut unneeded words and sentences.

We want to eliminate the clutter.

Give our readers muscular prose.

It’s true of advertising, letters, business proposals.

Even letters to Mom.

Short words, sentences and paragraphs.

You would not write 50-word sentences to Mom.

Mom would have trouble reading your letter.

In a letter to Mom, you want to tell her what happened.

You may write to ask for money or to send her some.

You may tell her about her grandkids’ mischievous ways.

You may joke by asking if she’s picked up any men lately.

Ernest Hemingway won a bet to write a short story in six words.

He won by writing: Baby shoes for sale, never worn.

In this somewhat stilted example you’ll see what I mean:

Man bites dog. Man arrested. Dog rushed to veterinarian.

You get the idea.

Your other readers want to know what’s in it for them.

Don’t make them wade through a dark forest.

Lead your readers into a sunny meadow smelling of clover.

If our reporters wrote better it would make editing their work easier. It would make our news and feature articles sing. But we lack the time to coach them. Here’s a secret. Help them with a copy of writing coach Jerry Bellune’s The Art of Compelling Writing, $9.99 at They’re worth the investment.

Other recent columns