Pacing Again, and Setting

In today’s Journal

* Quote of the Day
* Pacing Again
* Setting
* Of Interest

Quote of the Day

“While there are some benefits to using AI art as an indie author, it’s essential to consider how ethical it is.” Miles Oliver at The Independent Publishing Magazine

Pacing Again

Yesterday I talked here a little about Pacing as I used it in my short story, “Keep Calm & Carry On.” I mentioned that one reader emailed to say, “I don’t think I breathed for two minutes.”

Another reader left a comment on the story as it was presented on my Substack: “Loved the mood you created and the setting. This was a tense read.”

A third reader left a comment on my Stanbrough Writes website: “My coffee got cold. … You are never disappointing.”

Finally, a fourth emailed this morning to say the story was among my best. Then he asked whether I wrote it pre-WITD. (grin) No, it wasn’t, but today’s Journal is already approaching 1200 words so I’ll talk more about that in tomorrow’s edition. (By the way, all four of those readers are also fiction writers.)

A quick point re pacing—What the first reader said about breathing and the second said about mood and tension and the third said about his coffee getting cold (he was absorbed in the story) are all effects directly attributable to pacing.

As I wrote in “A Note on Pacing” in yesterday’s edition of the Journal, what causes readers to turn pages has nothing to do with speed. The formula is Depth + Tension = Anticipation. Anticipation is what causes readers to turn pages, and you can create tension with a slower pace just as you can with a faster pace.

For more, especially if you missed it, see yesterday’s post at


In addition to mentioning mood and tension, the second reader/writer also mentioned the setting. Writing setting really isn’t difficult if you bear in mind three secrets (and if you Practice):

1. Invoke as many of the POV character’s five physical senses as apply to the scene, plus at least one emotional sense.

For example, if you’re purposefully lying very still behind the stock of a sniper rifle in a dense jungle and sweat is trickling down your face in rivulets, chances are the sweat is due in part to the ambient heat from the climate and the surrounding jungle—and in part to fear. So in that one image, you’ve conveyed the ambient temperature, the feel of the sweat on the skin, and the emotional sense of fear.

2. Focus down.

As you invoke those five physical senses, let the reader see, hear, smell, taste and feel (physically) specifics of the setting. Don’t just see a desk, but the nick in the front edge of the desk.

In the jungle setting I started with above, let the reader hear the buzzing of the gnat who keeps annoying the POV character’s right ear. Let the reader see and maybe feel and maybe hear a drop of sweat falling from the tip of the POV character’s nose. Let him or her feel the edge of the bright green leaf touching the POV character’s forehead (and him wondering vaguely whether it might cut him).

Let the reader inhale the rich, earthy smell (or aroma or stench, depending on the POV character) of the jungle floor and see the damp reddish-brown and black texture of the nearby rotted log, and so on. Are there maggots on the log? Focusing down is what makes the setting come to life.

3. Take. Your. Time.

This is maybe the most important technique I can pass back to beginning and early stage writers. Take your time. Don’t rush through recording the POV character’s sense and opinion of the setting.

Here’s a great rule of thumb for writing description: Any description that comes through the POV character is essential, so take your time and get it all in. Now for an aside: if in your mind you just asked, “What if it isn’t important to the story?” stop. Just stop.

The story is unfolding around the characters and you as you run through it with them, so how can you possibly know whether something is or isn’t important to the story? Trust the POV character. If s/he sees, hears, smells, tastes, feels (physically or emotionally) something in the scene, it’s important to the story.

And if s/he DOESN’T notice something, it ISN’T important to the story. Which brings us to the second part of the rule of thumb: Any description that comes from outside the character and the story (in other words, any description that comes from the writer, a member of a critique group, or any other conscious, critical mind) is too much. Period.

Just write (record) what the POV character sees, hears, smell, tastes, and feels both physically and emotionally, and you’ll be golden. Trust yourself. You’ve got this.

Finally, if something in the setting reminds the POV character of something else or another experience (as it did in “Keep Calm”) go with it. It will tie back in.

Also under the heading of “Take your time,” understand that the reader can’t see (hear, smell, etc.) what you don’t put on the page. If you see, hear, smell, etc. something of the story in your mind, be sure you take the time to write it down.

This is a particularly large problem for beginning and less-experienced writers. They tend to skip from one exciting scene to the next without letting the readers see the characters crossing the intervening space.

In one romance I edited, for example, a study-like room opened on a balcony. One moment the male and female leads were in that room quietly discussing an upcoming event, the next (with no transition) they were standing on the balcony overlooking the grounds, and the next (still with no transition), they were back inside and she was reaching for his hands and looking up to say something romantic to him.

Yet they didn’t GO back inside. Obviously in the story they did, and I don’t doubt for a moment they did in the writer’s mind too, but on the page they didn’t. As the copyeditor (and reader) I felt almost physically jerked from place to place to place.

That sort of thing will make your stories will feel gapped and thin. But if you’re guilty of this, don’t feel bad. Many writers omit part of the story at first. Especially Stage 1 and 2 writers, when they’re still focused on the words and sentences.

When you give yourself over to the Story, you will begin to slow down, focus more deeply on the setting and in the scene, and just enjoy your time running through the story with the characters. And that’s exactly where you’ll want to be.

Talk with you again soon.

Of Interest

See “The Circus Trial of the Early 20th Century – The Hall-Mills Murders” at

See “Business Musings: It Begins (A Process Blog)” at

See “Does AI Art Affect Indie Authors?” at My kneejerk reaction “not unless you want it to” aside, this is an interesting article that address the ethics of AI art.

See “Friend or Foe: ChatGPT Has Pushed Language AI into the Spotlight” at

The Numbers

The Journal…………………………………… 1210 words

Writing of “Hortencia Alvarez” (shrug—I dunno)

Day 1…… 1089 words. Total words to date…… 1089

Writing of Wes Crowley: Deputy US Marshal 2 (WCG9SF4)

Day 1…… 3231 words. Total words to date…… 3231
Day 2…… 2990 words. Total words to date…… 6221
Day 3…… 1805 words. Total words to date…… 8026
Day 4…… 2025 words. Total words to date…… 10051

Total fiction words for February……… 1089
Total fiction words for 2023………… 47962
Total nonfiction words for February… 10580
Total nonfiction words for the year…… 30930
Total words for the year (fiction and this blog)…… 78892

Calendar Year 2023 Novels to Date…………………… 1
Calendar Year 2023 Novellas to Date……………… 0
Calendar Year 2023 Short Stories to Date… 0
Novels (since Oct 19, 2014)…………………………………… 72
Novellas (since Nov 1, 2015)………………………………… 8
Short stories (since Apr 15, 2014)………………… 217
Short story collections……………………………………………… 31

Disclaimer: Because It Makes Sense, I preach trusting your characters to tell the story that they, not you, are living. Duh. Download (free) My Best Advice for Fiction Writers at