Boost Dialogue with Beats . . . Prompt #532

Too much dialogue can be boring to read. Interspersing action with dialogue makes a story interesting.

In real life, we don’t talk without movement, neither should characters on a page. Plus, action gives clues to the character’s personality, habits, status and more.

For example:

“I dunno,” Remy said.

Well, kind of boring. But what if detail were added:

“I dunno,” Remy said, polishing the top of his boot along the back of his jeans.

Readers can “see” this action and learn more about Remy’s character.


“Dialogue benefits from variety. A good way to maintain reader’s interest is to insert a variety of beats into dialogue. Beats are descriptions of physical action that fall between lines of speech.” —“Amp Up Dialogue With Emotional Beats,” by Todd A. Stone, Nov/Dec 2010 Writers Digest

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions signal emotions.

“When a character raises an eyebrow or furrows his brow, this action, or beat, interrupts the dialogue and telegraphs a change in the character’s emotional state. As an exchange progresses and the emotional intensity rises—as the character’s dissatisfaction grows into anger, for instance—a character might set his jaw, bite his lip or narrow his gaze. His eyes may darken, his face may redden, his nostrils may flare and so on.

Watch a TV show with the sound off. See how actors use facial expressions to signal emotions.”


Of course, facial expressions aren’t the only way to physically show emotions. Body language can indicate a range of emotions.

“Characters can point, steeple their fingers, clench hands into fists, pound tables, hold their hands up to surrender, cross their arms in front of their chests, throw up hands in resignation or despair.”


“Characters can cross the room, push back from a desk or table to get physical and emotional distance from a heated conversation, an intimate moment or another character. They can move in closer to become more threatening or more intimate, or to drive a point home. Use movement to support and enhance your dialogue.”

Bigger Moves

“If it fits your character, use big actions: Throw a fit, throw a plate or throw a punch. If your character has a hair-trigger temper, bypass eyebrow raisings and go straight to breaking furniture.

Make sure the actions are consistent with the character’s traits. Every action should be a reflection of the character’s objectives and emotions, and of the scene. If the character seldom shows emotion, focus on small details that show true feelings, a tightening around the eyes, a deliberate forcefulness in each step as he walks across the room, a tense grip on a pen.”

If you have a work in process see where you can add beats to dialogue.

Prompt: Recall a recent conversation. Write it out, including physical gestures, facial expressions, and movement. Write as if you are writing a scene for a character to act out.

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