Using Beats to Bring Your Dialogue to Life: Turn the Beat Around


I’ve talked about using dialogue to bring characters to life. Today I’d like to discuss the importance of using beats.

A “beat” is a description of the physical action a character makes while speaking, and good beats can bring your characters to life and make your dialogue pop right off the page.

Beats can also help you show your readers instead of telling them. (Misuse of show, not tell is a common mistake many first-time authors make. Remember that readers don’t like to be told what to think!)

Here are three examples of the power of a good beat.

Which of the following sentences make you feel more connected to what is happening?


A) “I told you, I’m not going!” John shouted, furious.

B) John slammed his fist on the table, his nostrils flaring. “I told you, I’m not going!”

John is clearly angry. But in example A, we know this because we are told so. In example B, we know this because we are shown it.


A) “You’re really not going?” Karen said, incredulous.

B) Karen’s jaw dropped. “You’re really not going?”

Karen is incredulous, but why do we know this? Do you see the difference between A and B? In A, we’re told what to think, and in B, we’re left to decide on our own what to think.


A) “No, because I can’t be with you after what you did,” John said with disdain.

B) John slowly shook his head, still glaring at her. “No, because I can’t be with you after what you did.”

Which of these do you think better shows the reader what’s happening?

Well-placed beats make your writing richer, fuller, and better. And good writing, like good teaching, engages your readers and lets them draw their own conclusions.

This blog post originally appeared on Reprinted with permission. © 2012 CreateSpace, a DBA of On-Demand Publishing, LLC. All rights reserved.

Maria Murnane, best-selling author of the Waverly books, novels for anyone who has ever run into an ex looking like crap. Visit her website at or follow her on Twiiter!


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  1. “Yes, very good, thank you,” he said, nodding. “A simple but powerful insight that I myself unintentionally violate from time to time.” Again he nodded, thinking how he would best describe the way the corner of his mouth ticked up in a small smile.

  2. my book is a non-fiction crime thriller, about when i caught a friend and drug dealing partner In the act of killing a girl or the term he used was””I HAVE A FUCKING WHORE HERE”” i said I DON,T CARE WHAT SHE IS GET HER THE FUCK OUT OF MY YARD” as his eyes were bulging out of his head from cocaine use; DON,T WORRY ABOUT IT GO BACK TO BED”” excepts,s from PROFILES OF A MURDERER””

  3. Great hints and tips. Even an experienced author needs reminding of some basics from time to time. Thank you.


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