I would like for my story to continue moving, but I find that I interrupt action with details or inner thoughts, mood, emotion, etc. Hence, how can I spot an interruption in my writing that could drag the quality of my writing down?

Furthermore, I have tried to dedicate a paragraph or a large a section to focus on specific things such as description of setting, description of select items, inner thoughts, action, etc. However, I find that it is too much all at once. So, how can I structure my paragraphs to allow the reader to focus on one specific idea, and keep the story moving without piling on too much of one idea?

3 Answers 3


It's an awkward way to write, but if you put that stuff in the first draft, and revise it out in the second, it works.

It may be your way of balking at writing something you find difficult. Practice can help. If you can identify when you interrupt the flow of action, you may be able to consciously work on the issue.


First, the obvious: Don't tell the reader what is obvious. Second, don't tell the reader things that don't matter.

(GOOD EXAMPLE): Kyla's phone vibrates. It's John.

"Dude! Where are you?"

We don't have to tell the reader:

(BAD EXAMPLE): Kyla's phone, in her zebra striped protective case, vibrates in her back pocket, an incoming call. She reaches around to extract the phone, instinctively careful not to hit any side buttons, and squints to read the screen in the sunlight; it is John. She uses her thumb to answer the phone, and puts it to her ear. She says, "Dude! Where are you?"

You don't write every detail of every action when the actions are obvious; if you do, the reader gets bored. Trust your reader to fill in the gaps; including moods and emotions, if they are obvious from the context and content of their speech. If I wanted to convey that Kyla is irritated and angry with John, I can make her say: "Dude! where the hell are you?"

Our job as the writer is to guide the reader's imagination, but we can trust them to fill in the blanks. We don't tell them where to place every foot on the trail. We only write about things that change and make a difference that is important to the story.

Of course we do describe new settings, but we don't need to keep re-describing settings, or people, or their momentary mood.

What the reader is interested in, on this tour, is the changing situation, the changing information about the "mystery" or problems they are facing. The turning points in the story. Their added points of understanding, which are sometimes erroneous (thus giving us twists) but nevertheless cause them to make decisions, change their actions, change their circumstances -- That is the action in the story, these turning points. These are what is interesting.

We only supplement those with settings, sometimes emotional states. We want the reader imagination immersed in the story, visually and otherwise. The scenes should play in their head like a movie. But these aids to the imagination must be relatively concise; we describe a new setting in half a page (100 words), or a page at most.

Building a set in the reader's imagination cannot take too long, they will get bored. Part of our job is to winnow down the description. We don't have to make them see exactly what we imagine, we pick the critical details that set the ambience of this place, that exemplify it.

Towering book cases, heavy oak stuffed with thick books and ribbon-tied scrolls, a century of dust and cobwebs on everything. A rough stone floor with faint paths worn into it. In one corner a planetary globe floats in the air, slowing turning. Kyla realizes it isn't Earth.

John is busy looking up toward the ceiling. Kyla nudges him, and nods toward the globe. "John. Check out the globe."

Description, followed by a change. A discovery.

If there is something else in this library that needs to described, we will get to it. The things they find there. John notices a scroll that is NOT covered in dust, it contains a clue they need. Kyla feels a draft, and finds a secret door. Whatever. We describe what we need to support and justify the changes in our characters, usually limiting ourselves to the changes that will have permanent effect; the things that will cause course changes.

The exception, of course, exposition and character building: These are scenes that change the reader and their perception of the characters. If we need them to know that Jack is cruel for the fun of it, the scene that does that isn't changing Jack, it is revealing Jack to the reader.

The same if we want to show that somebody is unfaithful, or a false friend, or a traitor. Scenes that reveal characters don't necessarily change the characters, they change the reader by revealing the character. Using such revealing scenes is the preferred way to inform the reader, versus exposition: Don't just tell the reader Julia is an expert pickpocket, find an excuse for a scene with Julia to show us Julia successfully picking a pocket.

This is why in movies like Ocean's 11 we are typically introduced to characters that have particular skills in scenes where their skill is on display. The pickpocket picking pockets, the acrobat doing acrobatics, the card shark ripping off amateurs in poker, the remote control boys having fun with remote controls.

What matters is change, in either the reader's understanding of the characters, or in the characters thinking, emotions or actions going forward. If your writing is not advancing this, you are overwriting.

I can't give you a hard and fast rule for what to keep and what to toss. There are none in writing. But your question suggests you already have a sense of this. So I hope focusing on the changes each paragraph or scene accomplishes will help sharpen your perception of where the stalls and interruptions are and how to fix them.

  • 1
    A corollary to this is that you should tell the reader things they don't know, not things they know. It's fine to describe exotic cities or put in a detailed explanation of how to clone a dinosaur, but not to devote huge amounts of paper describing everyday places and events, like how to make a cup of coffee.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 13:36

In your story every paragraph should help your story move forward.
If you're describing the brilliant sunset for a whole paragraph, it probably will only bog your story down. No matter how amazing you find the descriptions to be. Better off skipping such details, unless they somehow contribute to the story. A sentence or two can be fine. A whole paragraph is most often, from my experience, unnecessary.
However, if the paragraph you're describing involves the thoughts of a character which have to do the story and its plot, you may find that not only do you want to keep it, but that adding an additional paragraph gives your writing even more depth.
A good way of testing your writing, and gaining an understanding of what you can improve is to reread your writing. If you give yourself a few days or weeks distance from the story you wrote, you will find that you'll notice details that you didn't notice before. You might be able to read a paragraph, and see for yourself if it helps the story, or does nothing for it.
Have others read and critique your writing as well. Ask them where they felt the story had too much descriptions/thoughts etc. Speak out your reasoning with them, and get their advice on how such paragraphs could be improved (or eliminated).
There is no one right answer to this dilemma of yours. It's all about what works for your and your story. As you write, and read, you'll gain and understanding of how you write best and what works for your.
Good luck!

  • 1
    I would say this advice of 'every paragraph' works best for short stories, and not novels. In novels you can easily afford space for a long descriptor.
    – Murphy L.
    Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 19:43
  • In my experience, long descriptions are most often uncessary, and just BORING. Could by there's a bit more room for them in a novel or longer piece of writing. However, I think most of the time they could, and should, be avoided.
    – user613
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 11:21
  • Good pacing is more important than ensuring every single detail is contributing to the story. Open any book, particularly a thick bestselling airport paperback, and not everything is about the story - there is often a lot of information about places, history, technology/weapons, etiquette (even in Bond) and all kinds of things, as well as irrelevant jokes, sex scenes, character moments, and more. What's important is to pace it so there are regular events that move the plot forward interspersed with other scenes, and the reader doesn't get bored. Also normally the pace picks up later.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 13:32

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