Keep freeze-frame in story brief, relevant

Sometimes the littlest detail, when mishandled, can significantly slow a story. Such is the case with a freeze-frame when writing fiction.

A freeze-frame occurs when the writer briefly pauses the action to describe a new character, object or setting that appears in the story. For example, her hair pinned up is a freeze-frame in Margie, her hair pinned up, entered the room. The term, borrowed from the movies, was coined by CSFW’s David Smith.

Often a freeze-frame is necessary in a story to help orient the reader. The challenge facing writers is to not overdo it. For example, the following freeze frame provides too much information:

Margie entered the room, a rectangular 11’ x 17’ with drape-covered windows on the wall opposite of the door, a twin-sized bed with a flower-print spread, and a television across from it.

The hotel room description takes up several “frames” in the story and so is akin to a camera shot lasting too long on a setting. It unnecessarily slows the story, as there’s no suspense in the description.

When writing a freeze-frame, follow a couple of simple guidelines. First, it should never last more than a sentence, and a phrase often is enough. It simply needs to point the reader in a certain direction by telling what a character’s key emotional trait is or what is the mood of a setting. Secondly, any freeze-frame needs to be relevant to the story. Simply describing someone as tall or a city as large usually is overgeneralized and insignificant (as is the case with the details in the above hotel room example). Instead, the character might tower over the others in the room or the city might span to the farthest mountain range on the horizon if the hero needs to quickly get from side of town to the other.


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.