The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing

Taglines and Beats

camcorder-1294289_1280.pngA tagline indicates who is speaking. It's the part outside of the quotes around the dialogue. The attribution of who spoke. e.g. he said. A tagline is in the same sentence as what is spoken. e.g. "Will you help me?" she asked. or "Stop the car," Josh said. For the most part writers use "said" and "asked" because they are unobtrusive. An occasional whisper, yell, shout, call, etc. is fine. Overuse of more unusual words are a mark of an amateur. Adverbs aren't commonly used because the dialogue should be written well enough to not need it.

Beats are physical action lines that accompany dialogue. They also identify who is speaking, but are in a separate sentence. However, beats do so much more for the story than that. Beats help readers experience the action and the emotions of the characters. They can help with setting and mood. These kinds of beats often include some kind of sensory detail. They can help with passing of time and pacing.

Let's show these different aspects of beats starting with some plain dialogue. I'm not positive I can do them separately, but I'll try. ;-) (Please ignore that I can't indent paragraphs on this blog.)

"I'm not going," Matt said.
"Why not?" his sister asked.
"Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid."
"That's right. What's burning?"

We know we have male and female siblings. We don't know where they are, what they are doing, or what they are arguing about.

Beats for action

Matt shut the door. "I'm not going."
"Why not?" His sister raised her eyebrows.
Matt leaned against the doorjamb. "Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid."
"That's right." He sniffed the air. "What's burning?"

Action alone is all right, but adding emotion will be better.

Beats for emotion

Matt slammed the door shut. "I'm not going."
"Why not?" His sister frowned.
Matt smacked his fist into the doorjamb. "Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid." She rolled her eyes.
"That's right." But he rubbed his sore hand. "What's burning?"

I think it's more interesting with indication of emotions.

Beats for setting

Matt shut the kitchen door behind himself. "I'm not going."
"Why not?" His sister hopped down from the counter where she'd been perched.
"Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid."
"That's right." Matt sniffed the air. "What's burning?"

Now we know where we are--a kitchen. And because of our setting, what's burning is probably some kind of food. (And yes, I put an action back in.)

Beats for mood

"I'm not going." A swirl of fog followed Matt inside.
"Why not?" His sister shivered.
"Because it's stupid." He looked over his shoulder as if he expected someone to be behind him.
Her bare arms goosebumped, but not from cold. "And you don't do stupid."
"That's right." Matt lowered his voice to a whisper. "What's burning?"

Quite a different feel, eh? And I don't think it's food that's burning, do you?

Beats for passage of time

"I'm not going," Matt said.
His sister finished the sentence she was writing before asking, "Why not?"
"Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid."
"That's right." He pulled out a chair and sat across from her. She turned a page in her English book and started on the next essay question. Matt sniffed the air. "What's burning?"

It's hard to separate passage of time and pacing. We know some time passes twice here. The pacing slowed because of the three things that happened between Matt's last two pieces of dialogue.

Beats for pacing

"I'm not going," Matt said.
His sister finished the sentence she was writing before asking, "Why not?"
"Because it's stupid."
"And you don't do stupid."
"That's right." He pulled out a chair and sat across from her. She turned a page in her English book and started on the next essay question. Matt checked the clock on the wall. 5:23. The second hand jumped forward one minute. 5:24. Matt sniffed the air. "What's burning?"

See how there's even more going on between his last two pieces of dialogue? It's slowed the pace. Adding in actual times slowed the pacing even more. It gives that portion a relaxed feel. You wouldn't want to do that when a character is in danger.

Looking at these examples as a whole, I added changes in facial features, body language, stronger action verbs, sense of place including items in that place, mood, and sensory details (fog, goosebumps, smell of something burning.) This means the characters aren't just standing in front of a white board. Way better than simply she said/he said. Of course, in a longer piece you'll use a mixture of taglines and beats to put the reader on scene with your characters.