Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – Part 20: Down, Down, Down

Welcome back! Over the next several more 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 twenty: 


“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 20: Down, Down, Down

In my last few posts, we’ve talked about increasing the tension in your novel or story, but you know that old saying, “What goes up must come down.” So today let’s talk about coming down off those tension highs.

1476101_10202851031740638_1363769618_n_002* photo credit given at end of article

Tension reduction isn’t always a bad thing. Sometimes the writer needs to give his or her reader “a rest.” If the tension is too high for too long, it can wear your reader out. Too much tension can also rend the veil of disbelief. I’m sure that’s happened to you in your reading life, those books where you think, come on that’s way over the top. At other times, we urge our readers onto a downramp so we can gain enough momentum to swoop them up even higher a few paragraphs or pages later.

Like all tricks of the trade, easing tension takes on the added dimension of the artistic when it’s done effectively. First, let’s address that issue by listing two general classifications of tension-easers.

A. The unavoidable. The unavoidable includes chapter breaks, the turn of a page, or the finger swipe across the screen of your eReader. These are mechanical in nature and not of great concern. Often you can use the unavoidable moments of relaxed tension to your advantage. You might want to check back and read post #19 in this series, “By Hook, Not by Crook,” which discusses effective chapter breaks.

B. The desired. These instances of relaxed tension are the result of well-executed pacing and include the following:

1. A shift in the point-of-view character

2. The solution to a small mystery or a large mystery

3. The completion of a very tense scene

4. A short paragraph of back story

5. A sentence or two of description

The tension-easers in the second category — I’m sure you can think of others I haven’t listed — can be effective tools in any novelist’s arsenal. It’s really all about pace. I usually edit for pace when I’m working on the third draft of my novels, which is one of my “hard copy” reads. I three-hole punch the printed pages of my novel and put them in a binder so I feel like I’m reading a book. Then I get out my red pen! Here’s what I look for:

1. When I catch my mind wandering, I need to up the pace with more tension. (See post #18. Tension)

2. If I begin reading so fast that I forget I’m editing, my pace is probably fine. (My editing might need a kickstart, though!)

3. If a scene does not place a strong visual image in my mind, I probably need to pull back  on the tension and slow the pace with a tension-easer, usually a sentence of description or a very short bit of back story.

4. If I crack up at the implausibility of the scene, I need a change of pace. Often, it’s time to cross out then rewrite whole pages until I have reestablished a believable scenario and my upramp isn’t quite so steep.

I’ve purposely left out one huge category of tension-easers. Those we don’t want to include in our novels.  I hope you’ll come back next month, and we’ll talk about The  Dreaded Pace-Plague!

How do you adjust the tension or the pace of your novel?

Strength to your pen!


* Photograph, copyright David Massongil, 2010. Used with permission. Thank you, David, I love this photo!

*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 to come back October 23, 2014, for part 21.


5 responses to “Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – Part 20: Down, Down, Down

  1. The balance is so important but not always easily attainable. Some great suggestions!.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well said! This is so useful! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Thank you, Erik! How’s your writing doing now that you’ve begun a new school year?


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