I watched Gaspar Noé’s 2018 film Climax last night. It’s a psychological horror/drama/mind-bender of a movie, and I can’t help but think of it as I sit to write about the concept of negative space.
Twirling in the unstated purgatory.
Call it what you want, but it’s the piece of writing, cinema, photography, art, etc. that we don’t look at.
It’s the man/woman/thing behind the curtain that no one remembers is there.
The dead space between chapters that tells us to shut the book or shut the lights or shut our eyes or shut up and keep reading.
But, *holy cats* does it serve a purpose. A big blank one. And if we screw it up, that in-between stuff we don’t write/film/paint/photograph, it can really put an otherwise awesome work at major risk.
Back to Climax. It’s the story of one night in a dance troupe, whose sangria gets spiked with LSD. It’s not for the faint of heart or stomach, but the dancing and acting are unbelievable. Put it on a big screen and watch them trip… badly, but really good.
While Climax has a main character, it simultaneously follows a huge supporting cast, and the movie paces as fast as its dance routines. This means it’s got to be really deliberate with its transitions- the minutely silent parts that take it from one piece to the next. The blanks spaces are the moments where one conversation drifts into the distance and another one picks up. If we notice the them, there’s a problem. We shouldn’t see these moments. We, as viewers, should only see story.
The movie itself uses juxtaposition to transition scenes. It goes between long, singular uncut shots that put the viewer into the room in a completely intimate viewing, and then switches into quick cuts via interview-style documentary footage where we’re back to watching the action. It goes from rainbow-colored bright lights to red-cast hues where everything is sickly and uncomfortable. It’s all compelling but every take is completely different in mood and emotion. We’re kept on edge, reeling from one part to the next.
Then, in the end (**mild spoiler**), there exists a scene that is meant to leave the viewer feeling like they want to crawl out of the movie itself and end the nightmare. In between all of these? No breaks. No white space. And the pacing doesn’t allow you to catch your breath, leaving you feeling the trip itself.
Chuck Palahniuk talks about this concept in his writing tome, Consider This. Under the subheading of “texture,” he urges us to consider what we do to move conversations forward in times of dead space. How can we set pace and bring readers from one scene to the next, without the reader thinking about the fact that we’ve moved them at all? Essentially, he’s asking us to consider what something is by making us think about what it is not.
Brain-bendy stuff. Like Climax, but way less horrifying.
Palahniuk calls it the way we “hide a seam between topics.”
In conversation, the simplest way we might do this is to say, “So…” and shift the the talk. When it’s obvious in movies, the scene goes dark for a moment and you’re seeing your own reflection. Sometimes it’s so glaringly unbearable, it hurts your eyes (when it looks like something to the effect of “10 years later”). Even books end almost every chapter to some (albeit necessary) white page space. But, we’re better than “so,” and we’re better than too much blank space. And we are WAY BETTER than “10 years later.” Readers are smart.
But, if we’re really good, our readers never even think about the fact that we hide seams.
An example used in Consider This includes the repetition of the rules from Fight Club. You know how this works. A scene comes to an end. Someone says the famous, “The first rule of Fight Club is…” What follows can be anything. But, rarely does it have to do with what that came directly before it. Instead, the next scene picks up, maybe on a different page, or in a different chapter, and we keep reading, completely unaware of the mechanism that has just shifted our psyche.
Yet, they’re more. When done well, they become something of literary mantras. When you, the creator, are conscious of your seam hiders and your conversation transition in a mantric way, you’re upping your branding capability. You’re adding to your repertoire of things that become distinctly you.
I’ll leave you with this. Color-cast your words. Juxtapose your images. Basically, level-up and texturize your work so you leave the reader/viewer a little more roughed up than before they handled your piece, but, in a good way. In a way that makes them question what just happened. In a way that makes them know they got brain-bent, but aren’t totally sure how. Maybe you want them left trying to catch their breath, or maybe you’re aiming for a straightforward page-turner. A good seamstress hides the seams. Sew that baby nice and tight.
In the end, they’ll remember you, as they walk away, shaking their heads. They only thing left to say will be something like:
“So it goes.”