Dialogue Tags Versus Beats
I think dialogue is one of the hardest parts of writing. It’s so hard to make it sound natural, to avoid a volley of clipped, choppy “he said, she said” sentences that make your characters sound like they’re in a B movie.
Sometimes the word said is necessary. Because readers really do need to know who says what. But often you can tell the reader who is speaking by using beats, and eliminating the need for dialogue tags.
A beat is an action that is cushioned between or around dialogue, giving the reader a fuller picture of what’s happening to and between characters, what they’re thinking, and how they’re physically reacting to what’s being said. Not only do beats take the place of tags, but often they help establish setting, character quirks, and other actions that physically move the story and/or characters forward.
Consider the following:
“Murtagh,” Abby said. “Murtagh, where are you?”
“Murtagh?” Abby stood on the patio, glancing around for her friend. The bright sun had warmed the stones under her bare feet to the point of almost being too hot, but rather than go back inside for shoes, She stepped into the sand and walked toward a cluster of palm trees that swayed with the light breeze blowing off the ocean. “Murtagh? Where are you?”
The first is fine, and totally correct. But the second tells a lot more about the character, weaves details into the story, and eliminates any question as to who is speaking. And be honest, which would you rather read?
So when you’re struggling with dialogue, perhaps it will help you to picture your character, what they’re doing, and blend the dialogue throughout.
Best of luck!
Nichole Giles had early career plans that included becoming a megastar actress or a rock star, but she later decided instead to have a family and then become a writer, in that order. Writing is her passion, but she also loves to spend time with her husband and four children, travel to tropical and exotic destinations, drive in the rain with the convertible top down, and play music at full volume so she can sing along.