I've been mulling over this question for at least a year now. There may be a simple way to ask it but I lack the vocab if there is one. I'm ready to ask it because I think I can express what I want with an illustration. But first some context.
When I was in high school, I wrote a novelette set in a fictional universe called Dawn. The universe was structurally simple with only a handful of materials that make up matter: liquid, stone and life (a sort of cytoplasm). The physics was simple too.
The problem came in, though, when I needed to convey this. It was out of the question to tell the reader the details about how the world was simpler because it would ruin the pace a lot or wouldn't really paint the right picture in the readers head.
My solution at the time was to just skimp on details lacking in Dawn but that are in our physical world. For example, suppose that in Dawn, people are colourless, humanoid blobs without hair. I would just not mention their hair or colour etc. The characters wouldn't mention it either. Why would they? They've never known anything different (i.e. Maid and blob dialogue).
The overwhelming feedback was that readers where continuously disorientated because they could not place the setting. There were no hard, literary edges to orientate with because this is an abstract universe.
In one of my drafts I tried using a framing story to allow exposition in a Flatland-esque way but I couldn't convey enough of the setting detail with that.
Now that the context is out of the way, here is my illustration. Suppose I tell you about "a valley containing trees, surrounded by mountains."
The funny thing about this is that more often than not, the components will be understood as symbolic abstractions. Both the stylized picture of a tree and the word "tree" contain an unspoken promise that the tree has bark, rings, is made up of cells, each cell contains such-and-such atoms etc. even if you are not explicitly told that they are there.
But what if the setting really looks like that picture? What if you go there first-hand and what you see is identical to that picture?
How can I convey the simplicity of the setting by using "negative space" so that the reader actually feels like the story is reliably being narrated?
If it doesn't make sense to use negative space at all, why and what should I do differently?