Grounding the Reader with Beats

Posted on April 14, 2009. Filed under: Uncategorized |

In yesterday’s post we talked about the debate over using attributions or tags to denote a speaker in dialogue versus using action/narrative beats. I mentioned that for your readers, the surroundings of a scene begin to dissolve in only a few dialogue exchanges. Quickly, the reader can forget where they are, who’s in the scene and what the characters are doing. The result of a long dialogue ping-pong is talking heads. Grounding your reader is a tool to keep those elements in the reader’s mind so he/she will experience your scene like a movie. A beat is a sentence (or 2 or 3) that accomplishes the grounding. In between dialogue lines, insert actions (Grace stood up and headed for the exit.), emotional narration (Grace had never experienced such a rude salesclerk.), remind reader of surroundings (The antique shop was crammed floor to ceiling with the dusty remains of people’s lives.) or report interior feelings (Grace fought back the urge to cough.). The Rule of Three comes in handy for gauging how many dialogue lines and how many beats to add for a natural and plausible scene.
Writing Tip for Today: Scenes become a total experience when you ground the reader. Write a scene in which you practice grounding the reader. Weave through your scene a blend of spoken lines and beats. Try to avoid all dialogue tags. Instead, use beats to convey the total picture.

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