Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Where Do You Find Good Beats?


What is a beat, anyway?

Beats are the bits of action interspersed through a scene, such as a character walking to a window or removing his glasses and rubbing his eyes--the literary equivalent of what is known in the theatre as "stage business."

Like a piece of good music, good dialogue has an ebb and flow to it. But beats do more than control the rhythm of your dialogue. They are also a powerful way to convey your characters. Any good actor knows the importance of body language in projecting a character, and the same holds true in fiction.
You want to write beats that are as fresh, as unique as your characters. No two people cross a room in the same way, and there are as many ways of showing, say, uneasiness as there are situations to make a character uneasy.

So where do you find good beats? Well, as Yogi Berra once said, "You can see an awful lot just by watching."

Watch your friends. Notice what they do with their hands when they're bored, with their legs when they're relaxed, with their eyes when they're nervous. Watch old movies--Humphrey Bogart in particular used stage business very effectively.

You can also see an awful lot just by reading. Start paying attention to beats ars you read--the ones that make you wish you'd written them and all the ones that distract or irritate.

Watch yourself. Keep an eye open for those little movements that bring your personality to the surface, the gestures that reveal who you are or how you're feeling. If you collect enough of these little movements, your characters won't ever have to look at their hands again.

Source: Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (HarperCollins)