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Friday, March 09, 2007

Too many action beats

The writing book, Self-Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (second edition), suggests eliminating dialogue tags in favor of action beats. For example, instead of he asked, she said, he demanded, replace the dialogue tags with action beats whenever possible.

I've mentioned this before, but I thought I'd use a few more examples. Sometimes we writers go overboard on the action beats. For example:

“How have you been?” He tucked in his tie.

“Fine. How are you?” She fidgeted with her necklace.

He sipped some water. “Work’s been busy.”

“How’s the new manager doing?” She wet her lips and glanced around at the other diners in the restaurant.

He looked up. His eyes pinned her to her seat, while his smile reminded her of Hannibal Lector. “He’s doing fine, just fine.”


Only keep in the action beats that do something for the scene. If an action beat indicates emotion, or if you’re trying to convey a character’s personality in the beginning of the manuscript, then leave it in. Otherwise, cut, rearrange, slice-and-dice!

If you show the same emotion with two beats, eliminate one. If a beat doesn’t say anything about the dialogue or the character, eliminate it.

“How have you been?”

“Fine. How are you?”

“Work’s been busy.”

“How’s the new manager doing?” She fidgeted with her necklace and glanced around at the other diners in the restaurant.

His eyes pinned her to her seat, while his smile reminded her of Hannibal Lector. “He’s doing fine, just fine.”


Go through your manuscript and look only for action beats, to see if you can eliminate or rearrange some.

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