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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Open Discussions About Writing » Dramatic "beats" in stories

Author Topic: Dramatic "beats" in stories
Member # 1818

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In legolasgalactica's thread about novel and movie scripts, extrinsic and I got into talking about "beats" in play scripts. (It was actually a minor disagreement about what beats are in script writing, but that hardly matters; it was just a matter of semantics).

It got me thinking, though. In play scripts the beat gets used a lot. Basically, dialogue or action will be going along at a nice clip, and then you'll get a beat, or dramatic pause, that stops the action for a second or two before moving on. It has the effect of emphasizing the importance or emotion, or sometimes just the coolness, of whatever comes right after the beat.

For example: "Luke." (beat) "I am your father."

In a play script this is easy to do. You just write the word "beat" in parentheses, and that tells the actors to insert a dramatic pause right there.

Obviously, you can't do that in a novel or short story, but you may still want to get that effect of bringing everything to stop for a second in order to emphasize what happens next.

One example I can think of is in a Henry James story I read in college. The character gets right up to the point of dropping a big revelation, then Henry James has him go off into an unrelated tangent for a paragraph before coming back and making the big reveal.

Do you guys have ways you like to put "beats" in your stories?

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Member # 6044

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Depending on the POV character, I often use the word "pause" and/or throw in a description, simile or internal thought. I'm not sure if this exactly meets the point, because it is often adding extra detail about the dramatic pause. But depending on the tempo, it can work. I'm not sure that all the following examples work, but they do show the point.


(POV not speaking)

"I was going to tell you." She paused, as if fighting back the tears. "But you wouldn't believe me."

"I was going to tell you." Dappled light filtered through the trees, her face oscillating between pensive and penitent with the shadows. "But you wouldn't believe me."

(POV is speaking)

"I was going to tell you." Don't look away. Not now, when I finally can face the truth. "But you wouldn't believe me."

"I was going to tell you." She looked deep into his eyes and offered a bleak smile. Like putty in my hands. "But you wouldn't believe me."

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Member # 8019

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Uh-oh! One of the great mysteries of artful writing is how and when to create artful drama through dramatic pauses: one of the greatest secrets of persuasive writing of all time.

Dramatic pauses for best effect are accentual. They can be created as easily and meaningfully as artfully punctuating phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and installments. White spaces too. In order of pause strength, word spaces are briefest, so brief they are invisible, but they are there. Line breaks, section breaks, and so on.

Commas are next in pause strength, then periods, known as full stops in typesetter vernacular; question marks--queries--I leave out exclamation marks and interobangs in pause order for rhetorical purposes. Next comes more complex yet subtly artful pauses: semicolons, colons, and dashes, maybe parentheses, brackets, and braces. I also leave out ellipsis points for rhetorical purposes and quote marks and italics and other emphasis acrobatics easily and often abused, when the words and logical punctuation and spaces as a best practice ought to develop emphasis themselves.

wetwilly and Brendan give strong examples of dramatic pauses: description, action, introspection, and sensation expressions that punctuate dialogue (conversation) and develop emotional context and texture of the spoken words, character actions and voices, setting details, etc. They also artfully close narrative distance by perhaps obviating dialogue tags of the Jane said, Linwood thought, or he, she, or it asked varieties. All of which are narrator voice, regardless of their near invisibility. Artful dramatic pauses are dramatic in that they develop the context and texture of antagonism, causation, and tension of dialogue: dialogue's intrepretable, accessible, appealing meaning. Tension and tension relief most importantly. That's drama.

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Member # 9757

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It depends on the voice, as shown above. It also depends on whether you are using dialog or description.

In third person description I like to break things off in a separate paragraph sometimes, only one sentence long. As for example:

The other boy was two years younger. His name was Larry. An irrepressible flirt, but in truth he was hopelessly devoted to a young girl named Pearl. It was understood by all who knew them that the pair would be married as soon as Larry saved enough money.

Larry had not died quickly.

In dialog extrinsic is right, you can use all kinds of punctuation methods. One way is to suddenly switch inside a sentence. To. Add. Emphasis. And naturally there is the ever - popular hyphen; the ubiquitous semi-colon; the trailing dots... etc.

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Pyre Dynasty
Member # 1947

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There is also just embedding the dialogue tag in the middle of a spoken sentence.
"I want to tell you something," Bob said, "but I'm afraid of what you'll think of me."

In text you can also use sentence extenders. Words that don't necessarily need to be there. Stray thats, words like particularly.

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