Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Common Problems (Part 11 of 50)

Insert beats (actions or gestures) #1. Beats, when used well, make your dialog stronger and your prose more readable.

It also avoids what we call talking heads. That phrase means two or more people speak but we have no idea where they are, the time of day or year, or whether it's in the present or past.

Here's one piece of dialog from a student: "There’s no place to anchor a tent here and the slope is much too steep. And the snow will continue at least through the night. Too much danger of blowing away! We have to find Kregor and move on. If we don’t find something better, we’ll have to make a serious decision about pitching camp. In the meantime, seconds count." (This went on for four more sentences.)

Here it is again with beats added.

"There’s no place to anchor a tent here, and the slope is much too steep. And the snow will continue at least through the night." He brushed the snow off his face and shook his head wearily. "Too much danger of blowing away. We have to find Kregor and move on."

New paragraph: While the other four people stared at him, their bodies already trembling from the cold, Evan said, "If we don’t find something better, we’ll have to make a serious decision about pitching camp. In the meantime, seconds count."

The second version does two things. First, it gets us out of the talking heads. We now have a sense of the bitterness of the weather. Second, it breaks up the lengthy dialog. I call that breathing space. Readers feel as if they're in the scene by the insertion of brushing off snow, shaking his head, the others trembling from the cold.

When I insert beats into my writing
I add life and energy to my prose.

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