Using Beats In Writing Dialogue

Posted on June 22, 2009. Filed under: action beats, body language, bookmarked scenes, dialogue attributions, narrative pacing |

Working on an editing job today (great stuff, Marilyn!), I found some spots where three characters were in the same scene having a conversation. This type of scene will be much more clear in your reader’s mind if you remember to include beats of action.

Writing Tip for Today: Use beats, or sentences that convey action, emotion or body language, to clarify attributions and help pace a scene, especially scenes with three or more persons involved.

  • The first time a character speaks, preface with either a beat of action (or body language or emotion) or an attribution (he said) to help the reader undertsand instantly who the speaker is. I don’t care much for stories that begin with dialogue because I don’t know any of the characters yet. If I have to re-read the line after I learn the speaker is male, not female, or a dwarf instead of a troll, I may stop reading.
  • When more than two characters are in a scene, “reframe” the camera so that two of them (main character plus one supporting) are in the shot at one time, then shift to the other supporting character and so on. Again, action beats are an excellent tool to be sure the speaker is clear in the reader’s mind.
  • Use beats to slow or quicken the scene’s pace. Adding body language is especially worthwhile because it helps readers know what to pay attention to and what things are important.
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