What are beats, you ask?
Beats are small pieces of action interspersed throughout the dialogue.
For example, from Moonpie and Ivy, the beats are in bold:
"My mama just up and left." Pearl flung an arm in the direction of the road. "Just perched her butt behind the wheel of that crappy old care and drove away. What do you think of that?"
"Who know. Last I heard, she was running wild over in Macon." Ivy's face got redder. "Makes my blood boil," she said.
From Fame and Glory in Freedom, Georgia:
"If you had a kid who needed glasses and you didn't have any money, what would you do?"
Miss Delphine tapped her fingernail against her coffee mug. "Well, I suppose I'd start with school," she said.
I LOVE beats! They are critical to the rhythm of the dialogue - and I love rhythm.
Using beats for rhythm takes practice - and reading out loud (or at least hearing the dialogue).
Let beats work for you.
Use beats to:
- Identify who is speaking (to avoid the use of a dialogue tag)
- Develop character (especially if the action is unique rather than common)
- Show the emotions of the speaker
- Break up the dialogue
- Allow the reader to visualize the action
- Vary the rhythm
- Move the story along
Warning: Watch out for repetitive beats. And don't overdo the specifics. (For example, don't show us every single action involved in eating dinner. This is pointless and boring.)
Now beat it....