Friday, November 11, 2011

Cues from the Coach: 3-D Writing Revisited

Last month's post on writing in 3-D drew some great feedback. Neither cited example struck a chord with all those who commented, so clarification of the term as I intended it seems in order.

As a reminder, here are the examples:

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.

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.

While some chose the longer example, most preferred the shorter, simpler paragraph that depicted the scene without excessive verbosity. Neither would pass untouched in a final edit, but both demonstrate that our words can lie on the page as the reader passes over them, or they can rise up to pull that reader into their magical world. Any work that accomplishes this qualifies as 3-D writing.

What makes a book appealing to you as a reader? What is it that connects with you and pulls you into a story? Knowing and applying this information to your writing can make a huge difference in the way a reader responds to your work.

Linda Lane writes, edits, and publishes books. A number of the books she has edited have won awards for their writers. You can visit her at

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  1. Another pass, Linda, so another response. I have to admit that very different things, even at opposite ends of the style spectrum, can appeal to me as a reader. On the one hand, writing can be so straightforward and transparent that I am barely aware of reading. On the other hand, I admire the fluid and original turn of phrase that makes a line memorable, even if it takes me out of the story. I think of le Carre's spare and serviceable style on one end, LeGuin's transcendent creativity on the other. I've been told that my own prose leans toward the lean clarity end of the scale, perhaps because I find florid, overwritten prose particularly irritating. (Of course, I, too, went through that phase, but it was back in high school.)

    And, since I am still unsure what 3D writing is, I am uncertain whether I like it, deplore it, or am indifferent. Ah, well, on into the 4th dimension--and beyond!

    --Larry Constantine (Lior Samson)

  2. Larry, I think I've unintentionally complicated a very simple concept. We writers always want to engage our readers. We want our work to leap(or even tiptoe) off the page to invite the reader into the story. Just as a 3-D movie literally pulls the viewer into the scene, so 3-D writing involves the reader in the scene/story or with the characters in a personal way. It's that relationship with the reader that makes a story memorable. I apologize for the complication.

  3. I think it's marvelous that each writer is different. One person writes sparsely. Another prefers more adjectives and adverbs. Another uses both or either, depending on what they're trying to get the reader to experience.

    I do understand what you're saying about making your writing 3D. A 3D movie puts us into the movie, allows us to experience it more. That's what we want our readers to do - get lost in the book so that we forget it's fiction or a book.

  4. I used to apply this 3-D concept to writing resumes. It's not enough to have your resume use the same words as everyone else's. You somehow have to represent yourself in such a way that you've reached off the page to shake the prospective employer's hand. That's what we want our characters to do!

  5. Helen, when I was a young girl, I could get totally involved in a Nancy Drew or Beverly Gray mystery. A few years later, my mother's collection of Kathleen Norris novels (written in the 30s and 40s) captivated me. Decades after that, I revisited some of these stories and tried to remember what had drawn me to them. The books haven't changed, but I have. Yes, I enjoyed them — from a different perspective. They still reaced out to me, but I didn't reach back so quickly. Now, other stories pull me in, but the result is the same as the one I enjoyed in my youth. Our reading tastes evolve with our growth and experience, but our desire to become part of an exciting story remains the same — as you say, we all want to be so engaged that we suspend disbelief and the fiction becomes, for the moment, our reality.

  6. Part of what makes a book speak to me is how language is employed. I like the second, perhaps because I myself tend toward verbosity. But really, for me, it felt more conversational. The first passage felt like an abridged description, something I might find in a short story or shorter novel, where the author has to pack a punch in fewer words. Not the type of description wherein the words have time to settle over the reader and the reader has time to decide whether to feel comforted or suffocated. I like the chance to absorb the words and let them paint a picture for me, as if watching an artist work.

  7. I suppose I'd go for 3-D writing, as long as I don't have to wear those silly glasses to read it.

  8. Yes, Patricia, so do I. For 5 years I worked as a theme reader for a Washington state school district. During that time, I read many thousands of papers written by students from grades 4-12. One of the suggestions that I repeated often urged them to create word pictures, thus adding interest to their writing. Today, I'm still sharing the same advice. Words bring color and depth to the canvas of the page. Give them sufficient shades and shadows to inspire imagination, but not enough to stifle it.

  9. Hooking me in the first few pages is vital. If I'm not sucked in, I won't keep reading (unless it's for book club and then I go through ten pages at a time and read other stuff).

  10. Kathryn, you are absolutely right. Our characters must reach out to our readers in a very "real" way.

    Christopher, I don't like those silly glasses either.

    Girlseeksplace, the hook says it all. If it's not there, neither will the reader be, at least not for long.

  11. The first example seems flat and cliched to me--cotton candy clouds, for instance. The character doesn't come alive for me. The second example uses stronger verbs, for one thing--such as squinted instead of looked. The first half seems a bit overdone, especially the hints of backstory if this is the opening to the story. But from where she lifts her arms to the sun to the end is wonderful. Sensory details other than just those of sight. I'm suddenly with the character, feeling her longing for warmth from the sun. Her head droops. Her feet shuffle. I see her. I care about her. Isn't that what's important?

  12. Yes, Joan, that's what's important. As writers, we always want our characters to connect with our readers - which is the singular meaning of 3-D writing. Thank you for your eloquent comment.

  13. I've been reading your blog for a long time, but I think you should stay away from the social commentary as you really don't get it. Stick to the tech stuff.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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