The other day, in a workshop I was leading, we got into a discussion of holes vs. hunger. An astute writer in the group, one who is working on a memoir, used the story holes/hunger distinction to describe how she feels when a manuscript leaves her wanting more.
Holes are pieces of missing information that make it difficult to understand the story that’s being told. The reader is left wanting more, but in a bad way, lacking vital information like where the story is set, or when. Who is the narrator? What’s at stake?
These are the kind of holes that readers can fall into and get lost forever. Story holes make reading difficult. They are likely to get a book put down.
Hunger results when you leave out just enough to keep your reader wanting more. Consider this little bit of description from the first page of a piece submitted for a different workshop, wherein the writer is describing the setting:
A bedroom doorframe is precariously patched after yet another forced entry.
This is the first page. She doesn’t tell us why there was “another forced entry.” It doesn’t matter (yet). She immediately gets back to our main character and the main drama at hand, but that line lingers there like a little promise of a juicy story to come. That’s hunger.
Telling The Difference
The trick with story holes vs. hunger is knowing where to draw the line. It’s difficult sometimes, as the writer, to know if your prose will leave readers wanting more or leave them frustrated and put off.
The best thing you can do to make sure you’re landing firmly on the side of hunger is to get someone else to read your work and tell you where they’re confused or where they’re hooked. Second best is to leave your draft alone for a while, try to get a little distance from it, and then read it through with a fresh eye.
The main difference between story holes and story hunger is whether or not your reader can understand the story without the information that is being withheld. That said, too much hunger can also be discouraging. If you leave little bread crumbs to build hunger, there better be a sandwich at some point or once again, your reader is like to get frustrated and give up.
Happy writing, my friends, and may your readers always finish your stories with their metaphorical bellies full.