Avoid stalling as approaching crucial event

One common plotting problem novice writers experience, especially in the first draft, is that of stalling.

Stalling consists of including here-to-there scenes prior to when a crucial event is to occur in the story. Usually these stalling scenes are superficial and unnecessary.

Suppose that a story’s climactic scene involves five soldiers holding out in a fort against a much larger force. Stalling scenes might include how one soldier filled his canteens, how another one went to a building in the fort for sandbags, and how a third brewed a cup of coffee.

While the soldiers may very well have done each of these things, none of the scenes are emotionally charged. Rather than build suspense by delaying the presentation of the final battle, they decrease the tension by slowing the story.

This is not to say any of those scenes, if properly developed, couldn’t further the story, however. Perhaps while filling canteens, a male and a female story come close to expressing their suppressed love for one another, even though both know neither may be alive by the time the sun rises. Perhaps the lack of sandbags forces the soldier to improvise how he sets up his foxhole, and this improvisation gives him the clue to the strategy the small band needs to follow to be victorious. Perhaps as brewing the cup of coffee, we learn something about that character’s cool as the author holds up the value of grace under pressure. Comparatively, simple here-to-there scenes would be unsatisfactory, even if just listed in a line or two.

The term “stalling” was coined by CFSW’s David Smith.


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.