Silence Between the Lines: A Storyteller’s Dilemma

Recently I stumbled upon an image that pokes fun at a dilemma in storytelling. Those of you who spend a shameful amount of time on Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook like me might have encountered it before.

The reason why I’m featuring this image is because it made me think.

One of the greatest struggles as a writer is that language is only as potent as the wielder is skilled. The dilemma can be likened to archery (or really any other activity that requires a considerable amount of training and skill).

You give a newbie archer the best set of bows and arrows in the world, and they might never even hit the bulls-eye once out of a hundred tries. You give a seasoned archer that same set of equipment and bam-bam-bam! they might get bulls-eyes every time. As linguistical creatures, we all have access to the vocabulary of our language (our bows and arrows), but only some possess the training and persistence to craft art with it.


Now, as a relatively inexperienced 19 year old whose life-experiences might pale in comparison to those of billions of others on this planet, I can’t count myself as a “seasoned archer”. I can write. I can tell stories. But I’m unable to use language to perfectly transport every thought and visual floating through my head onto paper (aka hitting the bulls-eye).

I wonder if anyone, no matter how exemplary of a writer they are, is capable of accomplishing such a feat. If we suppose that no one ever has, then everything that a writer has failed to express is the “silence between the lines” aka ideas that were axed for various reasons. In this case, the mountain of unspoken ideas in this world towers over the pile of the spoken.

Think of all that silence. If silence had a voice, its voice would be the loudest in our loud world.

Ironic isn’t it? Do you feel a sense of loss from this reality? Millions of thoughts and words and dreams and ideas and visions colliding with one another in a brilliant display across the planes of our minds and yet…only a slice of a fraction of all that brilliance is shared with the rest of the world, not in a way that authentically conveys their original brilliance but through words, oftentime crude ones. I did when I first reached this realization.

Perhaps the loss of our ideas does warrant regret, or perhaps it warrants something else. What if the unexpressed state of some thoughts is a good thing?

Imagine if we penned or spoke everything that sprang into our minds. Imagine if Van Gogh not only wanted to capture the ambience of a peaceful villa under a starry sky but also a sense of ecstasy from a nightmare he recently had and to do that, he painted a hideous orange and green striped beast hovering in the corner of the canvas. Ok, this is a bit of a stretch, but you know what I mean.

If you’ve ever written or attempted to write a story before, imagine trying to cram every idea that you’ve ever had for that story into the story itself. Sure the adventures of a racecar driving princess fae who has to simultaneously rescue her robot best friend and win the medieval version of Top Model sounds fascinating, but it’s too chaotic. Sometimes, silencing some of what seems to be our best ideas is the right thing to do. Writers’ priority is the health and organic development of their stories. Respect for our audience comes second. Our wants and whims comes last (though they can but not always align with the first two priorities). .

I want to close by redirecting your attention to that image from the start of the post. Here it is again.

There have been times when no matter how much I write and how diligently I write and how concentrated I write, the story simply refuses to bend to my writer’s will. The sentences I slap onto the page are cacophonous. The diction is all wrong. My plot has flatlined. The characters’ personality are as stiff as wood boards.

Those moments, days, or weeks are real life manifestations of the above image. They are real life manifestations of the newbie archer missing the bulls-eye every time out of a hundred attempts.

There’s a solution even then: keep writing. I never imagined I would be the one handing out the most overstated yet underrated advice in the entire creative writing field, but here I am. I’ve finally conceded that this is the most practical, useful, and necessary advice to any writer of any stage.

You don’t expect to gain the skills to paint the Starry Night overnight, and you don’t expect to be able to casually pick up a set of bows and arrows and bam-bam-bam! hit bulls-eyes with every shot. So don’t expect to perfect your story and your writing in one sitting either.

Keep writing. Don’t hesitate to let your voice gush onto the page, but also don’t be afraid of the silence between the lines.

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