Destage dramatic action that slows your story

If your story seems to be moving slowly, you may need to destage some of the action.

A term borrowed from theater and coined by CSFW’s Steve Popkes, destaging occurs when the author moves what has been shown onstage to offstage. Onstage action consists of dramatic passages that are presented with great detail for the reader. In contrast, offstage action is that which occurs behind the curtains and so in a story isn’t shown but merely inferred or quickly noted.

The following is an example of onstage action:

Getting into the car, Pliny buckled his seat belt then turned the ignition. Checking over his shoulder, he saw no vehicles coming and so pulled onto the highway. The sun shined brightly through the windows as he drove to the conference center.

However, this could be presented as offstage action by distilling it to the most basic description of what happened:

After driving to the conference center, Pliny…

The above example of onstage action certainly merits destaging. The details of how Pliny started his car and drove to the conference center are simply not dramatic enough to bear so much attention. Because of that, those details slow the story by reducing suspense and tension.

Often even including a quick reference is unnecessary. In the above example, an empty line or set of centered asterisks probably is sufficient between the scene in which Pliny is at the conference center and the previous scene. Hence, the new scene might simply start, At the conference center, Pliny… Exactly how Pliny reached the conference center is irrelevant to the story; it is sufficient to infer that he used a typical, uninteresting mode of transportation for reaching that location.

Of course, sometimes the writer has to do the opposite of destaging. Action that was shown offstage may need to be moved onstage. That requires fleshing out all of the beat-by-beat details of what was simply inferred or quickly noted.

This decision to destage or to move action onstage usually occurs during rewriting.


My name is Rob Bignell. I’m an affordable, professional editor who runs Inventing Reality Editing Service, which meets the manuscript needs of writers both new and published. I also offer a variety of self-publishing services. During the past decade, I’ve helped more than 300 novelists and nonfiction authors obtain their publishing dreams at reasonable prices. I’m also the author of the 7 Minutes a Day… writing guidebooks, four nonfiction hiking guidebook series, and the literary novel Windmill. Several of my short stories in the literary and science fiction genres also have been published.