Friday, October 14, 2011

Cues from the Coach: Writing in 3D

I remember 3D movies from decades past and the 3D comic books my brothers and I used to read. Both required us to wear special “glasses” that allowed the images to appear to rise from the page or leap off the silver screen. While the pictures fascinated me, the glasses proved to be more of a nuisance than I wanted to deal with. Some new 3D movies have reached the theaters, but I know nothing of the technology or whether they also require special glasses to get the desired visual effect. But because we live in a 3D world, the concept makes sense and has a certain appeal.

Written words on the pages of a book, however, are not 3D, so how can this apply to writing? Let’s consider two examples.

Example #1:
Lisa looked up at the azure summer sky, and the bright noonday sun made her squint. Cotton candy clouds dotted the horizon. Birds sang on the power lines at the back of the property, and squirrels chased one another up and down the tree trunks. She let her chilly body soak up the warmth before she went back inside the air-conditioned building. It might be a long time before she could feel the sun again because, by now, someone must have discovered that she was no longer in the ward. Whoever left the door unlocked would no doubt be fired.

Example #2:
Lisa squinted. The bright noonday sun almost blinded her, but she refused to move under the giant oak tree, where the squirrels chased one another up and down the trunk. Bird songs coming from the power lines at the back of the property sparked a memory that teased her mind, then blossomed forth in the recollection of weekends spent at her grandmother’s house when she was a little girl. She forced it away and turned to the cotton candy clouds that snuggled next to one another atop the horizon. Unwrapping her arms from around her waist, she raised them upward and welcomed the sun’s warmth into the chill that had held her body captive since that horrible day. A moment later, her arms fell to her sides. Her head drooped. She shuffled toward the door in the back of the building. It might be a long time before the sun would warm her again. They must know now that she had slipped out of the ward. Whoever had left the door unlocked would no doubt be fired.

Which of these paragraphs jumps off the page and pulls you into the story? Which one is written in 3D?

Linda Lane edits books and coaches writers in the process. She has edited three award winners and strives to make each book she edits a winner. Visit her website at

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  1. I have an opinion but don't think an editor should go first here! I'll wait and see what some of our readers think, first.

    I wonder if the results will be consistent? This exercise may just prove the subjectivity of the art form—but my preference is clear.

  2. Paragraph #2 had more details, but I preferred #1. I feel that the writing was more fluid and clean.

  3. The examples are intended to be a springboard for creating 3D writing. Obviously, neither is press ready. The idea is to examine our work in the light of whether it jumps off the page to grip the reader and pull him or her into the story.

    Interestingly, the number of words has no bearing on the 3D effect; rather, it's strictly the way in which the reader relates to those words.

  4. I liked number one for the conciseness, and the end of the paragraph had a terrific hook. I'm not sure I actually saw a real difference in the 3D you were trying for Linda, as I saw a bit of that immediacy in both examples. That said, you are so right about that being so compelling to a reader.

  5. Personally, I found paragraph #2 too frilly. If that is an example of writing in 3D, then I guess I'll stick to 2D.

  6. Rather than pick a favorite, I'd like to pick them apart. I liked #2 because the rhythm of the writing grabbed me. "Lisa squinted." And then the writer took off with a 24-word streak. However, I soon felt myself dragged down by the florid prose. The appeal of #1 was its concision, painting some color and context without stalling the story. In both cases, it'sthe last two sentences that actually advance the arc of the story. What I would want to read is something punchy and compact that sets the stage colorfully, then gets to the point.

    I think that the rubric of"3D" writing is a metaphor that muddles more than guides, at least at this depth of explication. I would like the blogger to be more specific about what she thinks are the dimensions and materials that make for 3D writing.

    --Larry Constantine | Lior Samson, author of Bashert, The Dome, and Web Games

  7. Linda didn't get many takers for this one--perhaps our readers thought it was a trick question? Since I promised an opinion...

    I prefer the first, for its concision, although to really pop it could include more meaningful sensory images and perhaps a surprising reaction. The overwritten second has many aspects I'd edit out, such as the intrusion of irrelevant backstory that fails to illuminate, redundancy (i.e. "sparked a memory that blossomed forth a memory,") the anthropomorphized cotton candy, and hyperbole (sun almost blinding her).

  8. Thank you all for your comments. Neither paragraph was intended to be better — just different. The question asked (Which one is written in 3D?) could be answered, "Neither." However, it wasn't a trick question. Its purpose was to provoke thought, and I appreciate all who expressed views.

    Larry, you picked the paragraphs apart. Excellent. Next month, as you suggested, I will be specific about my definition of 3D writing. It won't be another springboard, I promise, but will get to the meat of the matter without any muddling.

    Kathryn, you are so right that the multitude of words in #2 overwrites; it does not pull the reader into the story. The extraneous information dilutes rather than enhances the emotion of the scene and doesn't qualify it as "3D" by any stretch of the imagination.

    Maryann, you pointed out that no huge difference made one example stand out over the other. Exactly. So another element (or other elements) must propel a story from 2D into 3D. Certainly, it isn't the word count.

    Elspeth and Mary, you focused on the more compelling simplicity of example #1. Good call. Next month it will be "the rest of the story," as Paul Harvey would have said.

  9. Oh, I hope this isn't a test ... I get so nervous when I'm tested ... but at least it is multiple choice, whew! I'll pick no. 1. Do you grade on a curve?

  10. Number 1. The second one was overdone and too wordy.

  11. I'd go for number 1. Allows the mind to see in 3D as you read.


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