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I also find myself writing stuff like this:

(dialogue)

They remained silent for a moment. A dog barked at the distance.

(dialogue)

and this:

His stomach started to growl after a moment, and only then he realized he was hungry.

After a moment, he decided to walk west.

Is it better if I omit the bold text? I think the text wouldn't change that much. Are they often necessary for pacing?

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Uh, I'm trying to get rid of those myself. It's hard, once you get into the habit. My reasoning is: what does it even mean? Everything happens after a moment, when you look at it, one moment always comes after another ;). By the time the reader read it, the moment has passed for him as well, so most of the time there's no need to point it out to him, he already feels the passing. If you need a pause, then call it a pause: "He paused, then decided to walk west." Always use the more precise word, apple instead of fruit, sprint instead of run... –  Tannalein Jun 19 '13 at 5:06

3 Answers 3

up vote 14 down vote accepted

In my opinion, the passage of a moment is better expressed by filling it with some action. To illustrate, let's rewrite your last example: "After a moment, he decided to walk west."

How about this? "He looked to the east. In that direction lay nothing but the ruins of his former life. Turning away, he decided to walk west." Or: "Thinking about what she had said, he decided to walk west."

These are merely hypothetical, first-draft samples of random possibilities, but they demonstrate that creative writing works best when words (and opportunities) are not wasted. Merely stating that a moment of time passed wastes the opportunity to convey what actually happened in that moment.

On the other hand, there may be nothing valuable to convey about a particular moment; there may be no content worth communicating, in which case it's a good idea to try to eliminate the statement. In your sentence, "His stomach started to growl after a moment, and only then he realized he was hungry," the phrase "after a moment" is entirely unnecessary. Cut it out, and you'll see that the sentence works even better. If it is essential to the story that the stomach growling must be shown to have started at some point distinctly after some other point in time, then again I would suggest making something happen in that crucial moment, thus: "The window of a restaurant caught his eye, and he stopped to look inside. As if on cue, a waiter appeared, carrying a tray of plates laden with food. His stomach started to growl...."

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Pauses are important - moment in time where absolutely nothing happens is often more dramatic than actions themselves. But moments where absolutely nothing happens are rare. Usually something - even very insignificant - happens; ambience. Dog barking in the distance, for instance. Fill the wait with such ambience, whenever it occurs. –  SF. Jun 13 '13 at 11:25
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It's the famous "show, don't tell". But show only when you have something to show, don't show for the hell of it ;) –  Tannalein Jun 19 '13 at 4:48

There's nothing wrong with phrases like "after a moment". Just be careful not to overuse them.

If you find yourself writing:

Al entered the room. After a moment, Sally entered also. A moment later, Al said, "Oh, Sally, it's you." Sally paused for a moment ...

Using the same word or phrase (other than an article, pronoun, or short preposition) repeatedly in a short space tends to look awkward.

As John Landsberg says, in some cases you could replace the "after a moment" with some action. In other cases you could simply omit it. I'd say that the only time you should include it is when you intend to convey that nothing happened in that moment, that everyone was just waiting or standing dumbly.

For example:

Bob picked up the book and opened to where he had left off. After a little while, he put it back down.

The "after a little while" contributes nothing. Indeed it leaves the statement ambiguous. Is the intent that he was reading for a little while, that he just stood staring blankly at the pages, that he was thinking about something else, or what? Better to say what he did than just say that time passed.

On the other hand:

Cathy burst into the room and announced to her family, "I've decided to marry Bob!" She was met with total silence. After a moment, her father said slowly, "I suppose the wedding will have to wait until Bob gets out of prison ..."

Here, the idea that everyone stands around saying nothing for a little while contributes to the mood.

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Jay, I agree with this, and gave you an upvote. My tendency, however, is still to try to use some kind of description to convey that nothing happened. "She froze when she saw the stunned looks on their faces. No nerve gas could have paralyzed their expressions more effectively than what she had just said. 'Daddy?' she said hesitantly. Her father shook his head. 'I suppose the wedding will have to wait...." Sure, I'm being a bit silly here, but you see the point. –  John M. Landsberg Jun 13 '13 at 5:57
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@JohnM.Landsberg I don't particularly disagree. My only "rebuttal" would be to say that there are times when you simply want to say that there was a pause. You may be able to think of some action to fill the moment, or some prosaic description of why everyone was silent or waiting, but there are times when that could sound overdone and contrived. Sometimes simplicity is better. Certainly not always, but sometimes. –  Jay Jun 18 '13 at 12:21

Using "after a moment" isn't that bad, but don't use it a whole lot. There are different phrases you could use to describe passage of time, like:

•minutes later •after some time •a while later •after a long pause •following a brief pause

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