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It Is What You Leave Out That Matters

Lois Cordelia: Earth kissed by a raindrop

Writing well is as much an acquired skill as a talent.

Of course, those with talent are more blessed, and will go further if they move ass. But certain tricks of the craft of writing can be learned, and Elision is one of them.

I did not know the term before, but I’d seen writers use the technique in their work…and for the first time, I saw the question of elision given concrete form in the following words by Janet Fox:

In art, “white space” lies in the voids of a composition. The drawing of a bicycle is defined by its edges, not by what we think of as a “bicycle”—the leather seat, metal spokes, rubber tires, or jingling bell. When we look at an image defined by white space, we fill in the emptiness through our association with the concept, through the memory and experience of riding, of racing, maybe even of falling off and scraping our knees.

Is there a way for writers using elision to meet our readers in much the same way as the artist meets the viewer by conjuring the memory and experience of “bicycle?”

I think most writers have used Elision in their work, by using allusions, metaphors—by not stating the facts but hinting at them in order to retain a sort of tension in the text.

Fox puts this beautifully:

I suggest we define the space created by elision as gray space—as the opening or openings within the text. In more metaphoric language gray space is “the shadowy landscape of dreams where writer and reader meet.” Where white space implies absence, gray suggests the idea of shadow and foreshadow, of planting the seeds of idea. And “gray matter” connotes the human brain; connection between the reader’s brain and the writer’s brain makes it possible for the writer to evoke emotion and tension in the reader through gray space.

The spiritual aspect of shared space between writer and reader is essential to reading pleasure. Complex associations (elements of mystery, use of irony, metaphoric language) result in happy surprises—the “aha” moment of revelation and discovery. Victoria Redel writes that “to say a thing directly in a piece of fiction…diminishes tension.” Emotional connection, generated tension: readers want to meet writers in gray space. We writers must strive to provide it.

I think the entire article is very well worth the read.

So, dear writers, do you use Elision in your work? Do you do it consciously or otherwise?

Damyanti Biswas

Damyanti Biswas is the author of You Beneath Your Skin and numerous short stories that have been published in magazines and anthologies in the US, the UK, and Asia. She has been shortlisted for Best Small Fictions and Bath Novel Awards and is co-editor of the Forge Literary Magazine. Her literary crime thriller series, the Blue Mumbai, is represented by Lucienne Diver from The Knight Agency. Both The Blue Bar and The Blue Monsoon were published in 2023.

I appreciate comments, and I always visit back. If you're having trouble commenting, let me know via the contact form, or tweet me up @damyantig !

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  • Donna Hole says:

    I hope I do, as it is a conscious effort. I want the reader imagination and what they consider "the norm" to fill in the blanks (white space).

    I didn't know the term; but I've seen art like you've described, and I like it. Not overly detailed, but the sense of the image is there. And a lot of stories I like are the same; setting and character is woven so tightly into the action narrative and dialoge I don't need a detailed description for my mind to connect and fill in the missing pieces.

    I see the story in terms of what it means to me. I never analysed my reading preferences until I started seriously writing my own stories, and I try to integrate what appeals to me as a reader into my writing.

    Nice to know there is a name for the attempt 🙂


  • Arlee Bird says:

    Haven't given this any thought, but I think writers connect with readers who are somewhat like-minded. I'd say that's how we get our audience. Some writers who are very popular with many people I don't get and they don't interest me, while others speak to me and I get it.


  • Richard says:

    I've never heard of it or consciously used it.

  • M Pax says:

    If I do, it's unconscious. Thanks to the pointer to a great article.

  • cleemckenzie says:

    I've always believed that is where the author gives readers the chance to participate in the creative act by bringing their own experience to the story. And I do use it consciously. I love it when different readers have slightly different interpretations of things in my stories.

    Super post. Enjoyed reading it. See you again.

  • Carrie says:

    I've heard the term, but I never knew what it meant before. But I think I do use it: I was always taught 'show don't tell', which seems a pretty similar idea.
    I like the word elision.

  • Like most, a new term for me. I'm sure I've used it though.

    Thanks oh clever one.


  • Bish Denham says:

    This a new term for me too, though I have heard of using the actual white space of the page. Too many words can sometimes bog a reader down. Using dialog is one way to break up masses of words.

  • The Yum List says:

    Wow, I think I will be needing to read much more of your blog before I write another post again!!! 🙂

  • If I do it, I guarantee it's completely by accident!

  • I have never heard of this term before, but I think that I do use it in my writing.

  • Angela Brown says:

    I haven't heard of this term before either so if I've used it, it has happened without trying.