Category Archives: grammar

Dialogue tags x Beats: When to use them and how – Part 2

We’ve talked about diaogue tags. Now let’s discuss beats. What are beats?

Just like dialogue tags, beats are used in dialogue to identify the speaker–but, in this case, without using “said.” Beats are actions that identify the speaker without having to point out that he/she said that. It looks like this:

John scratched his head. “Are you sure this is how this works?”

In this case, we don’t need a “he said” in the end. We know John is the one doing the talking, because the beat told us so. Easy, right? So let’s move on to the rules!

Beat rules:

1) Punctuation:

Unlike tags, beats are separated from the quote by periods, not commas. A dialogue with both tags and beats would look like this:

“I love you,” she said.

He smiled. “I love you too.”

Tag with comma, beat with period.

2) Position:

A beat can come before or after the quote. But you do need to read your dialogue to make sure it’s clear to the reader who the speaker is. To better identify the speaker, have the beat on the same line as the quote. Starting a new paragraph can make things confusing, especially in a long dialogue.

3) Showing:

Authors seem to have go-to beats. In every dialogue, you’ll see characters (any of them) smiling, running their hands through their hair or turning. Those are fillers. They show absolutely nothing. You might as well just have a dialogue tag.

Instead of doing that, you should use beats to show and to create voice. Watch the scene. Get inside your character’s head. How would this person react to this comment? How would he or she feel in this situation? What quirks and habits match this character’s personality? When you do that, you show. You show people are really nervous without saying so if you have them pacing or chewing their lower lips. You show your character is a confident woman when looks straight into someone’s eyes and speaks her mind. Use beats for more than just telling your reader who is talking.

4) Mix and match:

If you have a dialogue using only dialogue tags, you have talking heads. If you use only beats, you end up with long scenes that don’t flow. The goal is to use both to create a dialogue that really moves your plot along.

After reading these two posts, do you have any questions about beats and tags? Do you need help with a dialogue? If you do, send me your scene and I’ll analyze it right here on the blog! Just email your dialogue (300 words max.) and a short blurb about your manuscript to gabriela@gabrielalessaeditor.com with the subject line DIALOGUE ANALYSIS. I’ll tell you how to improve it right here!

 

Google GmailWordPressGoogle BookmarksBlogger PostBookmark/FavoritesPrintRead It LaterShare

GRAMMAR – The case of the missing actor

It’s very common in a manuscript to see a sentence that starts with a phrase that modifies the subject of the next clause. Like this:

Having danced her whole life, Laura found her date’s lack of rhythm hilarious.

You can see that the phrase that comes before the comma has no subject, but it clearly refers to the subject in the next clause. So the sentence makes sense, right? You know that it’s Laura who has danced her whole life.

But many times, writers mess up that structure. They don’t put the actor of the first phrase as the subject of the next clause. And that’s when it gets confusing. You end up with a sentence like this:

Having danced her whole life, her date’s lack of rhythm was hilarious to Laura.

Now, that makes no sense at all. It sounds like it’s her date’s lack of rhythm that has danced her whole life. And it sounds easy to recognize, right? You’re thinking you would never write a sentence like that. But sometimes it’s not so obvious. Let’s see a few examples.

Upon entering the room, her eyes went straight to the big piano in the corner.

Turning around, her breath caught in her throat at the sight of him.

To appease his mind, the light switch had to be flicked five times before he went to bed.

Though exhausted, Jane wouldn’t let John sleep.

Don’t all of those look like sentences you might’ve seen, or even written yourself? Sometimes you use them because they seem smarter; sometimes because you’re trying to avoid using “was”, since you were told that equals telling. Or you just use them to vary sentence structure and to make the story flow. But the truth is they’re all wrong. In the first sentence, it sounds like her eyes entered the room. In the second, it sounds like her breath turned around. In the third, it’s the light switch that will appease his mind, and in the last one, it’s Jane who’s exhausted.

But how do you fix this? Very simple. You either add the subject to the first clause or you change the subject in the second.

As Lisa entered the room, her eyes went straight to the big piano in the corner.

When she turned around, her breath caught in her throat at the sight of him.

To appease his mind, Jack had to flick the light switch five times before he went to bed.

Though he was exhausted, Jane wouldn’t let John sleep.

See? It’s easy. They might look less fancy this way, but more often than not, simple is the best way to go.

So, do you do this a lot in your own writing? Do you have questions about writing? Send them to me and I’ll answer them here!

Google GmailWordPressGoogle BookmarksBlogger PostBookmark/FavoritesPrintRead It LaterShare