Good writing is as much about what you leave out as what you put in.
Like the monster skulking in the shadows, or the compelling off-screen presence (Her Indoors or Mrs Mainwaring) what we don’t reveal can be more captivating than what we do.
So when Alan Partridge was holed-up in the Linton Travel Tavern, the mystery of what exactly was tucked away in his desk drawer was made more delicious by never being solved.
Horrific? Embarrassing? Stomach-churning? Hilarious? Who knew?
Well, the writers knew.
Controlling the information you reveal is a technique that holds good whatever you’re writing.
If you can get your audience to do a little work for themselves – to use their imaginations, anticipate your punch-line, fill in the gaps – they’re engaging more closely with your world.
But leaving a space for the audience to fill can’t be a short-cut for a writer. You still need to know exactly what it is you’re holding back, so that the gap that you leave is exactly the right shape. That means fully immersing yourself in every detail of your fictional world and characters, or doing more research than your client will ever expect for your corporate brief. It’s only when you understand it all that you’ll realise what needs to remain, and what you hint at or allude to.
So, what exactly was in Alan Partridge’s top drawer?
According to Alan’s co-creator Armando Iannucci, speaking at Nottingham’s ScreenLit Festival earlier this year, the writers knew specifically: copies of the fictional Dutch special-interest magazine, Dikke Vrouwen op de Toiletten.
(Readers of an inquisitive disposition are invited to Google Translate the term. Readers of a sensitive disposition are warned not to. Readers of a particularly astute nature will notice that by asking you to work to fill the gap in your understanding, I am expertly manoeuvring you to engage more closely with the blog.)