Last week, I discussed the dangers of overusing beats. Though we must use them, we must also be careful to place them at the right spots in our narrative’s dialogue.
Another “beat issue” we need to avoid is this: writing trite. Trite words and phrases and figures of speech are easy to spot. They’re the first things that come to our mind while we write. Why? Because we’ve heard them so much and read them so often, they’re stored in our subconscious and usually pop out on the page during our writing process. Using them in our first draft is fine, but we do well to change them during our revision.
What are some trite beats? A few examples: he smiled, she shrugged, he laughed, she giggled, he clenched his fists, she sighed, he frowned, etc.
Personally, I think using such beats occasionally is fine, but they shouldn’t be prevalent in our story.
Good beats enhance our characters. They are fresh, original. Through well written beats, readers gain a better understanding of our story’s actors, which is why we need to know them intimately ourselves. Readers will observe their personalities, quirks, character traits, likes and dislikes, etc.
Here are a few examples:
John spooned the whipped cream off his strawberry shortcake and disposed of it in a sandwich bag. He wrung his hands. “Ah, now I can enjoy my dessert.”
Here, instead of telling readers in a straightforward manner that John doesn’t like whipped cream, they first see this by his beat and then by implication through his dialogue.
“I’ll be back.” Jane crept over to a corner in the library, pulled out her cell phone and punched in the number. The sign at the library’s entrance said “no cell phones.” Well, she wouldn’t get caught.
Here, we learn that Jane doesn’t abide by the rules. The library she’s in does not allow cell phones, but what is she doing? She’s using one! Without our telling readers she doesn’t care about rules, they observe this trait through her actions.
One more “beat issue” to avoid: do not use them after a tagline(speaker attribution), such as in the following example:
Wrong: “I’ll be back,” Jane said. She walked down the hall to answer the doorbell.
Correct: “I’ll be back.” Jane walked down the hall to answer the doorbell.
Use beats, by all means! But use them carefully and wisely, and write them in a fresh manner.
Till next week, everyone.
2 thoughts on “Beats, Part 2: Character Enhancement”
Thank you for these beatific reminders, Jack!
Jack, what an excellent article on the use of beats. They’re needed, but I need to be careful with their use.