Have I mentioned this quote on the MedAuthors blog before? My apologies if so, but it’s one of my favourites. The late, great Alistair Cooke told of a seven year old boy, who said that he preferred radio to television ‘because the pictures are better’.
I’ll grant that this quote comes from the late 1940’s and in those early days, the picture on most televisions left a fair bit to the imagination. But the sentiment has stood the test of time. Even in the face of HD, 3D and widescreen, there is still something magical about being able to fill in the spaces yourself.
One of the mysteries of the human brain is that it seems to do this quite effortlessly. One glance at a photograph or a scene in real life, and our minds set to work, filling in the gaps and trying to understand what we see. We interpret and reconstruct, making sense of things in the context of our previous experience and our own preconceived ideas.
In some situations that can be a lifesaver, allowing us to draw conclusions and act quickly, but sometimes it’s not so helpful. There have been many accounts of witnesses, present at the same event, who have disagreed over fundamental details. This newspaper advertisement from 1986 makes an interesting point http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OFogBUS3y6I
Many writers have talked about being inspired by a similar process. A scrap of conversation, a glimpse of something, which grows and gathers detail and depth until suddenly there’s a whole story there. And like radio, books are very much a collaborative effort between the writer and the reader – as a reader I like to fill in the gaps that a writer has left for me, and as a writer I find myself constantly re-assessing the balance between what’s said, and what’s left unsaid.
Do you like plenty of scope to use your imagination when you read, or do you prefer things to be spelled out? Or broadening the scope a little, do you have any stories you’d like to share about how filling in the gaps has given you inspiration, or made you jump to the wrong conclusion? I’d love to hear from you!