The blank page often gets a bad rap. Many writers find it intimidating. If you open up Word on your computer or if you grab a new lined pad from the kitchen cabinet, you are faced with the same thing – nothingness. This nothingness has been known to cause shallow breathing, heavy sweating, scattered thinking…writer’s block! And when you seize up with such symptoms, it’s not a bad idea to get out of your chair and take the dog for a walk or throw in another load of laundry in an effort to calm your mind.
However, the bright side of the blank page is the very large number of options it presents. (This concept, like nothingness, can also cause feelings of panic. But we’re going to stay positive here.) If you are responding to a prompt or answering a very specific question, you need to stay focused, but you still have choices about how you order and shape words. In an essay about income inequality in the United States, for example, you might start with a story narrative about a woman you know who lost her job and her home, or you could lead with an accounting of CEO salaries – or a variety of other facts.
With fiction, the realm of possibilities is wider and deeper. Your protagonist can be male or female. S/he can be a social worker or a banker or an unemployed chemist. S/he can live in a city, in the suburbs, in a townhouse, in a condominium, in a cardboard box. You see where I’m going. Yet, once you start to develop this character, once you start to know this person, you are limited by the boundaries of belief. You want your readers to believe that actions done and words said by this character could actually happen, that they are true.
Telling a believable story means readers don’t always get what they want, especially those who like a conclusive, definitive ending. And who can blame them? After turning more than three hundred pages, a reader is justified in seeking resolution. But resolution, like wet cement, takes time to set. Sometimes the ending of the story forms minutes, hours, or days after s/he has closed the back cover, filling the blank page of a reader’s imagination.