I have taken up the blogging from a-z challenge and every day in April, I will be posting a few thoughts on writing. So let’s get started….
April 1st 2013
A is for Ambiguity.
For me, one of the most important elements of good writing is ambiguity, where the writer allows the reader make up his or her own mind about the motives, desires and actions of characters, and the significance of situations and events within the narrative.
Good writing should have space to stretch and breathe, and ambiguity is a wonderful apparatus to oxygenate a story. Ambiguity swirls and weaves between and within words, thoughts and ideas, inviting the reader to explore, re-examine and interpret an array of possibilities and interpretations.
The wonderful thing about ambiguity is that meanings can shift and change along with the shifts and changes of the reader’s own life, and when the work is re-visited, new and perhaps completely different interpretations materialise. And so the writing remains forever fresh and alive.
I love ambiguity in all art forms, from painting and photography to music, songwriting and film. Indeed, one of the most enigmatic and polysemic works of art, Las Meninas by Diego Velazquez plays a central role in my new novel, Painting by Numbers. And if you want to see ambiguity in all it;s expansive beauty, check out the works of writers such as Raymond Carver, Richard Ford and James Salter, the novels and stories of Haruki Murakami, Alasdair Gray, Janice Galloway…the list of greats could go on and on.
So ambiguity can be a highly effective means of drawing the reader into your narrative. It can help to reduce unnecessary and overly long descriptions and explanations, and stops you committing the cardinal sin of telling rather than showing. But be careful. Ambiguity also comes with a health warning. Ambiguity can so easily tumble into obscurity and meaninglessness. Mis-use can leave the reader confused, befuddled and frustrated, and ultimately completely lost and pissed off, unwilling to persevere through the thickening fog. But for me, ambiguity is worth the effort and the risk, and in the end it’s always worth walking the high wire without a safety net.