Monthly Archives: June 2013

Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 6: 20/20 vision

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 six:


“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 6: 20/20

This post is one of the most important in our series, “Writing The Third Dimension,” so “listen up” (as one of my favorite teachers used to say.)  Employing the following technique can turn an ordinary novel into that book you just can’t put down.

For years this technique was a secret owned by only the most elite bestselling novelists, but then somebody normal – like you and me – figured it out, and now we can all use it to our advantage. Hooray!

File:Conrad von Soest, 'Brillenapostel' (1403).jpg

That secret is to allow the reader to see life through the 20/20 vision of the character’s eyes instead of the one-person-removed vision of the author. It’s all about showing, not telling. Showing is more difficult to do, but every time an author forsakes the showing approach for the easier and quicker I’ll-just-tell-you method, the reader is shortchanged and the story suffers.

Compare these two paragraphs: (Warning: neither one is great literature. I’m just trying to prove my point!)

1) A deep scum-covered pond lapped against the steps of the back porch. The whole house leaned toward the water as though it would someday sink beneath the dark surface. A tangle of willow trees grew at the edges of the pond, obscuring it from anyone on the road.

2) Devon stepped out on the back porch. His throat tightened. The whole backyard was a dark scum-covered pond. Water lapped against the porch steps, and Devon felt his feet slide against the rotting boards. He grabbed the porch rail. He couldn’t swim. If he fell in, he would never get out, and the tangle of willow that grew around the pond was so thick that no one on the road would ever see him.

Paragraph one doesn’t pull you in like paragraph two. Why? Paragraph one is description only. Paragraph two adds the sweet spice of emotion, because the reader is seeing the scene through the character’s eyes.

It’s hard for an author to admit, but characters are usually a lot more interesting than any author ever could be. When my readers pick up one of my novels about Alaska, 7000 B.C., they  don’t want to hear about it from someone who has never been there (like Sue Harrison). They want to hear about it from someone who is living there right now (like the woman Chagak in Mother Earth Father Sky).

I suggest that you practice the writing skill of showing-not-telling by looking through your own manuscript or through a book you are reading. When you find a paragraph of pure description (There are times when pure description is needed – a later post about that!) , rewrite it from a character’s up-close, 20/20, emotion-drenched point of view!

Have fun! Any questions?


*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 July 25, 2013, for part 7.


Saving lives

My sincere apologies for not posting lately. I’m feeling a little overwhelmed and a lot tired.  I do have a little story to tell you today, though.

A few weeks ago I went along with my daughter and young grandson to the magnificent performance of Beauty and the Beast. It was a wonderfully executed musical with excellence in the acting, dancing, singing, sets, costuming, lighting … and everything I may have missed mentioning. (My only complaint was regarding the small restless child seated behind me who whined, kicked my seat and somehow managed to kick me a few times over the top of my seat. Fortunately that didn’t last.)

At first my grandson didn’t seem all that impressed when it began with a short narrative, but once the ‘show’ got underway he didn’t move his attention from the stage. It was that good.

Beauty and the Beast

If you know the story of Beauty and the Beast, you know Belle’s love is what saved the Beast so after he died he again lived to become who he really was. (Reminds me of the Christian experience of grace.)

The ending of this live performance got to me; it was so beautifully done in such a touching way. I confessed to my daughter afterward, “I got tears in my eyes at the end.” She replied, “Me too! I was thinking don’t look at me!”  🙂

Now you may be wondering about the title of this post … Saving lives.  It was on the way home we got to be part of another dramatic live-saving adventure.

Part of our hour-long drive from the city to home is on a divided highway, three lanes both ways. As we drove along we noticed traffic in our lane was slowing a little and pulling out around something. My daughter was driving and suddenly exclaimed, “A mother duck and her babies!” On our left side – which was next to the median – there was a duck and her nine ducklings, waddling along in the same direction as the traffic. She obviously wanted to get up over the median, then would change her mind, and instead move into traffic in our lane. Her babies were staying very close to her, except for one little fellow that literally fell behind. It toppled over, got up again, and waddled even faster to catch up. So cute, and very stressful for us watching and worrying about them getting run over.

My daughter pulled on her four-ways (emergency signal lights) and slowed since they were then right in front of us. Eventually all traffic in our three lanes came to a stop, and a man in a van two lanes over, and I, got out to direct the duck family across all three lanes to a ditch. A second man from another vehicle joined us so they could not go off in the wrong direction.

I told my grandson the mother duck could have flown up over the median but her babies couldn’t fly yet and she wouldn’t leave them. It was quite an example of dedication for him to witness.

The duck rescue was a stressful, exhilarating, satisfying experience. When I told my husband about it later he said if the police had come along I could have been ticketed for stopping traffic on a main series highway. If that is true then I would not have been the only one. (Please don’t tell on me. 😉 )

I checked on YouTube and found many similar incidences, but they were captured on video whereas we didn’t even get pictures. Oh well, you will just have to believe me.

I did find this video that will take your breath away, as must have happened to this unfortunate – or fortunate, depending on how you look at it – family of ducks. (I hope the video works for you.)

Have you done anything crazy or daring to save a life or help someone out? I’d love to hear about it.

Thanks for reading, and … Creative Musings!  🙂