Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 5: CRASH! SMASH!

Welcome! Over the next many months we invite you to return here, specifically on the fourth Thursday of each month for the newest installment of Sue Harrison‘s teaching: Writing The Third Dimension. You can read all the segments by clicking on the page title WRITING THE THIRD DIMENSION, found under Writers’ Helps & Workshops on the drop-down menu. Please feel free to ask questions and leave comments for Sue. Now for the topic for month five:


“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 5: CRASH! SMASH!

When my oldest brother was in grade school, he discovered the delight of racing little plastic cars on a miniature track. He and my dad would each take a car and a controller and race and race and race. The winner was always elated, but I think they had the most fun when one of the cars would accidentally fly off the track, crash into the other car, and carry it off across the room, plastic parts flying.

If you are a writer, there’s a lesson to be learned in the art of crashing.  Novelists need to be experts at destruction, specifically, the destruction of their main character’s heart. We touched on this subject in my first Writing the Third Dimension post, but we need to dig a bit deeper into the process.

If you have a good understanding of your main character’s self-image issues (See Part 1 of Writing the Third Dimension: Heart Breaker), it’s time for you to take that wonderful person (or horrible person, if we’re talking about the villain)  and rip his or her world apart. You have to grab whatever that person loves most and smash it to smithereens. If you have a complex novel, with several main characters and a villain or two, you need to do that smashing stuff with every one of them.

Here are a few tips about smashing:

1. Your character’s central self-image can be smashed at any time in the novel, or even before the novel begins, but I’ve found the most effective smashing usually occurs within the first few chapters.

2. If you destroy your main character’s self-image BEFORE the novel begins, avoid the temptation to TELL the reader all about it in the first chapter. Or in the second chapter. Or ever in the novel. Feed it to your reader in small tasty bites. (We’ll discuss how to do this in a future post.)  Your reader wants to guess a bit about why the main character acts, talks, and defines the world as he does.

3. The most effective smashing occurs after the reader has bonded with the character.  Your reader will best bond through emotions.  In the first few chapters, the reader wants to know what your character loves, what your character enjoys, what your character hates. Let your reader see your character’s heart. Then SMASH! In my novel, Mother Earth Father Sky, I dedicated the first chapter to opening the main character’s world to the reader. It is a world foreign to most people because the novel takes place thousands of years ago in Alaska, but, by the end of the chapter, the reader knows that the main character, Chagak, is a young woman in love with the man who has just arranged to marry her. The reader learns that Chagak holds a place of respect in the village and is close to her parents and siblings. Then SMASH! Her whole world is destroyed by marauders, and she is the sole survivor.  Which brings us to point number 4.

4. Smashing hurts your heart. Be ready for that. If you don’t shed tears for your characters, your readers won’t shed tears either.

5. In longer, more complex novels, your main character may experience several SMASH situations in his or her life. A good example of this is the classic novel, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Jane’s world crashes when, as a child, she must go live with her self-serving aunt and wicked cousins. It crashes again when she loses her best friend at boarding school, and it crashes yet again when she uncovers the great secret hidden by the love of her life.  Charlotte Bronte was a master at pulling her readers in by destroying her characters’ worlds.

Likewise, your novel will pull in your readers when you make judicious use of the art of crashing.

How do you feel about smashing? Are you good at destroying your characters’ worlds, or is that difficult for you?

Blessings and Happy Writing!


*Writing the Third Dimension, copyright, 2010 Sue Harrison*

Sue HarrisonBestselling author, Sue Harrison, has written two Alaska trilogies: The Ivory Carver Trilogy and The Storyteller Trilogy, and a middle readers’ book SISU. Prior to the publication of her novels, Harrison was employed at Lake Superior State University as a writer and acting director of the Public Relations Department and as an adjunct instructor in creative writing and advanced creative writing. For more information, click here. To inquire about booking Sue for workshops or speaking engagements this year, click here.

Thanks for joining us! Please feel free to leave your questions and comments. We invite you come back June 27, 2013 for part 6.

8 responses to “Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 5: CRASH! SMASH!

  1. You’ve hit it exactly, Carol. It is exciting. I’m not referring to my novel Mother Earth Father Sky; I’m referring to destroying worlds, which every novelist must do to truly succeed!


  2. I wrote a book many years ago to see if I could smash my character’s world, and I cried so hard when I read it to my parents. It was awful! :’) In my book TORN, I completely smashed Jida’s world in the beginning and then I cried when I made her leave a family who loved her. I am very grateful to have read this workshop to know that’s ok! 😀


  3. It’s not only OK, Connelly, it’s great!! And by the way, I love your book TORN!


  4. While we always want our own lives to go smoothly, we can hardly wait to read about a character’s world being smashed. I find that interesting in a way. 🙂 I’m not particularily pleased about destroying my character’s, but I’ve accepted it as something that must happen.


  5. I’ve got to start doing that! OK, in that King Arthur book I’m working on, Sir “Clancey” Lancelot dies in chapter __ when evil-doers attack. Now, I need to work on that book! 😀


  6. You’re right, Laura, and sometimes it’s hard to do, but we really don’t have a choice if we want to have READERS!!


  7. I LOVE your enthusiasm, Erik!! And a death is a very effective “smash” in a novel.


I look forward to reading your greatly appreciated comments. Thanks for making my day! :)

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