Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 21: the Dreaded Pace Plague

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-one:


“Writing the Third Dimension” – part 21: The Dreaded Pace Plague

Last month we talked about decreasing the tension at certain points in your novel or your story (See # 20. Down, Down, Down) We included the unavoidable tension-easers like page breaks and the ends of chapters, and the scripted, necessary tension-easers that keep the readers “in” the story by varying the pace of the action.

IMG_1426Photograph Copyright 2002, Neil Harrison.

Today, we’ll discuss those tension easers that are NOT wanted. Most of these are self-explanatory and easily corrected if the writer is watchful. Here’s my list:

1. A difficult word or name.

If you’ve read my Alaska novels, you know that I’m incredibly guilty in this area. Most of the names of my main characters in these novels are Native words. I was aware of the negative aspect of this choice, but I decided the authenticity was worth it. Maybe I was right or maybe I was wrong, but if you elect to use difficult names or words be sure you weigh the consequences. They do slow the reader down.

2. A poorly constructed sentence.

One of the best ways to catch these in your writing — besides having a good editor — is to be sure one of your rewrites is verbal. When you stumble over your own sentence, you know it needs tweaking.

3. The author tells the story instead of showing it through the character’s eyes.

I could write a book about this one, so to shorten things up, I’ll just refer you to post #6 in this series, “20/20.”

4. Typos and grammatical errors.

A last careful rewrite, which I’ll discuss in a future post, is essential to eliminate this problem. Nonetheless, a few mistakes will still creep in. Most readers will tolerate those few.

5. Long passages of description.

Today’s readers prefer to have description offered in small doses. Cut, cut, cut! You’ll be able to give the same information via the more pace-friendly method of using a sentence on one page and two sentences on another, a phrase here and there.

6. Blatant preaching, even if the main character is the preacher.

Readers pick up a novel because they want a story. Let the story carry your theme and play out any convictions you are trying to address. Your reader will find it more convincing and you’re more likely to win a following for your second novel!

7. Non-visual writing.

If you can’t see it when you write it, close your eyes and visualize until you can. Then, write the scene.

8. Lack of sensory description.

Your readers want to know not only what your characters do but what they hear, taste, feel, see, and smell!

9. Long internal monologues by your characters.

What I said about preaching? Ditto.

10. Stilted and unrealistic dialogue.

Read your dialogue out loud. Everyone uses a different vocabulary for speaking than they do for writing. For your dialogue, use a speaking vocabulary. If you’re having trouble with a dialect or just everyday language in your dialogues, watch and LISTEN to a television show or a movie. Then write.

11. Factual errors in research.

Some readers care desperately about this and some don’t. I’m one of those desperate ones. Although I understand that mistakes happen, and the most carefully researched novels can have errors, a poorly researched novel can make me livid, especially if the errors are manufactured to support the author’s agenda. Do your research. If readers know you’ve done your best, they’ll forgive you for an occasional mistake, and author’s notes are a great place to ask for this forgiveness!

Well, that’s my list. Please add to it! I’d love your input.

Strength to your pen!


 *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 November 27, 2014, for part 22.


2 responses to “Sue Harrison’s “Writing the Third Dimension” – part 21: the Dreaded Pace Plague

  1. Great points, Ms. Harrison! This will be useful to me! 😀


  2. Thank you, Erik!!


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

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