Don’t overstuff story with packing peanuts

Knowing when you’ve overstuffed a box is easy enough. The sides bulge, and the lid won’t close. Knowing when you’ve overstuffed a box with packing peanuts is a matter of mastering the craft of writing.

Packing peanuts in fiction are elements added to a story to fill the spaces between big scenes or important events. Some good examples are a character approaching the building where the next big scene will occur or perhaps a character taking stock of who else is at an event to set up the big scene that follows. Such portions of the story tend to lack conflict, are low on tension, and slow the pacing.

Given this, packing peanuts always ought to serve a purpose in a story. For example, they could establish the setting, develop a character by giving insights into his behavior and hence his motivations and goals, or they might help create a tone or the atmosphere for the ensuing big scene.

All stories need some packing peanuts, but a story shouldn’t consist of nothing but packing peanuts. You wouldn’t send a box in the mail to a friend with only packing peanuts in it, after all, so you wouldn’t do the same to readers.

Stories heavy on packing peanuts tend to lack fully developed big scenes. The novice author’s solution is to overwrite the portions in between the action or to overestimate the importance of exposition to set up the big scene. Such writers instead should do more beat-by-beat outlining of their big scenes and then make room for it by dumping most of the packing peanuts.


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.