A few posts back, I talked about using dialogue to bring characters to life. Today, I'd like to discuss the importance of using beats. A "beat" is a description of the physical action a character makes while speaking, and good beats can bring your characters to life and make your dialogue pop right off the page. Beats can also help you show your readers instead of telling them. (Misuse of show, not tell is a common mistake many first-time authors make. Remember that readers don't like to be told what to think!)
Here are three examples of the power of a good beat. Which of the following sentences make you feel more connected to what is happening?
A) "I told you, I'm not going!" John shouted, furious.
B) John slammed his fist on the table, his nostrils flaring. "I told you, I'm not going!"
John is clearly angry. But in example A, we know this because we are told so. In example B, we know this because we are shown it.
A) "You're really not going?" Karen said, incredulous.
B) Karen's jaw dropped. "You're really not going?"
Karen is incredulous, but why do we know this? Do you see the difference between A and B? In A, we're told what to think, and in B, we're left to decide on our own what to think.
A) "No, because I can't be with you after what you did," John said with disdain.
B) John slowly shook his head, still glaring at her. "No, because I can't be with you after what you did."
Which of these do you think better shows the reader what's happening?
Well-placed beats make your writing richer, fuller, and better. And good writing, like good teaching, engages your readers and lets them draw their own conclusions.
Maria Murnane writes romantic comedies and provides consulting services on book publishing and marketing. Learn more at www.mariamurnane.com.
This blog post originally appeared on CreateSpace.com. Reprinted with permission. © 2011 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.