Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Anyone for a Useless Dialogue Beat?

Don’t get me wrong, there are times when an itty-bitty beat that does no more than tell the reader who is speaking is the right way to go.

He said. John said. She said. Vivian said.

But, then there are those other times when the opportunity to use a beat to REVEAL something wonderful really should be considered. Say you have a long string of dialogue happening. If you stick with the boring he said, she said beats, the reader may be at risk of nodding off, at the very least, they may not see anything, but rather only hear faceless dialogue.

An example of using the useless beat method:

“I’m so sick of getting asked to do it all.” Trish said.

“Give it a rest, Trish.” Mom said.

“You never get on Miss Princess’ case to do chores.”

“She did it last time.”

“ She never does.”

“I did so, Trish, you’re such a liar.” Miss Princess said.

“Stop it! I’m so sick of you kids believing you have no responsibilities in this house. Your dad has even had enough of it so I’m not being unrealistic. That’s it. Cancel the sleepover. ”

“Okay, okay, I’ll do it.”

“Too late.”

“You can’t be serious. I said I’d do it.”

“You’ve got one hour to let me cool down. Use it wisely, and I’ll give you my answer then.”


(Names have been altered to protect the accused.)

Now let’s use the exact same dialogue but with some REVEALING beats and see the outcome.

Trish stomped into her mother’s room. “I’m so sick of getting asked to do it all.”

Her mother looked up from her laptop, feet propped on the worn black ottoman. Just great. She’s back to writing.

With arched eyebrows, her mother responded. “Give it a rest, Trish.”

“You never get on Miss Princess’ case to do chores.”

“She did it last time.”

“ She never does.”

Stomping down the hallway warned Trish that Miss Princess was going to get nasty.

“I did so, Trish. You’re such a liar.” If her sister didn’t have the dog in her arms, she might have stuck her foot out to trip the little princess in her quake.

“Stop it! I’m so sick of you kids believing you have no responsibilities in this house. Your dad has even had enough of it so I’m not being unrealistic. That’s it. Cancel the sleepover. ”

“Okay, okay, I’ll do it.” Trish watched Miss Princess slip out the door. Probably smiling.

“Too late.” Her mother’s nostrils flared. This was bad.

“You can’t be serious. I said I’d do it.”

“You’ve got one hour to let me cool down. Use it wisely, and I’ll give you my answer then.”


Do you see a positive difference? Does it ground you in the scene any better than the first version? Does it reveal the characters more so than what we can gather from the first try? Lots more can be done with this dialogue piece, but for the purposes of this post, I hope it shows how you can improve dialogue by putting even a little effort into creating unique beats.

Question for you: When are revealing beats distracting?

Until next time, may your beats enhance your dialogue, and write on…

Surrendering to Him,

Eileen

14 comments:

Jessica Nelson said...

Wonderful example, Eileen! The beats made the characters become more alive too!

Joanne said...

I like how the beats help convey more than dialogue. Lots of attitude shines through them too, giving the dialogue a great energy.

Jaime Wright said...

I couldn't help but thing of my DH's little cardboard book with monkeys and drums. Best line: "dum ditty dum ditty dum dum dum"...

It's the BEAT and rythm that keeps dialogue flowing. You hit the nail on the head with your post :)

Wendy Paine Miller said...

I like what you've done with it.

I love to play like that. Change it up, ground my readers in the scene.

I kept thinking of Adele's Rolling in the Deep while reading this though. You listen, you'll know why.

~ Wendy

Eileen Astels Watson said...

Thanks for stopping by everyone!

I half expected complaints that my example didn't have romantic slant being that I'm a romance writer.

In case you hadn't guessed, I wrote this post in the midst of a very real conversation like this. And yes, I'm such a softie, the sleepover survived.

Loree Huebner said...

Thanks for this post. I didn't understand the beats until you showed the difference. Very interesting to read and feel them.

Anita said...

The most interesting thing was how the beats evoked emotion in me, the reader. I felt nothing in the first example, but in the second, it took me back to times I'd had these kinds of discussions, either w/my parents or my own kiddos. You gave me an emotional connection to the scene by playing off of beats that were familiar to my own experiences. Great post!

Diane said...

Great example! Thanks for sharing this handy info. Hugs :O)

Erica Vetsch said...

I love action beats. So much so that I find I rarely use 'said' in my work.

Great examples in this post. :)

Jeanette Levellie said...

Great contrast, Eileen! This makes the second scene much more alive and readable.

Amy Sorrells said...

Perfect timing! Working on a couple of dialogue scenes today and found myself nodding off. Going back to add some revealing beats now! Thanks so very much!

Diane Marie Shaw said...

What great examples. I can see I have a lot of work ahead of me.
Thanks.

Susan J. Reinhardt said...

Hi Eileen -

Great examples. I LOVE writing dialogue!

Thanks for an interesting post.

Blessings,
Susan :)

quietspirit said...

Great contrast between the two examples. I definitely like the second one better. It places me at the scene.