Common writer mistakes #13

#13 — Dialogue tags vs action beats

Dialogue tags can be tricky. But they’re easy to understand after knowing the difference between them and action beats.

Dialogue tags show who’s speaking and how they’re speaking. These can include but are not limited to:

  • Begged
  • Exclaimed
  • Grumbled
  • Muttered
  • Mumbled
  • Said
  • Screamed
  • Shrieked
  • Snapped
  • Whispered
  • Yelled

Dialogue tags are formatted with a comma before the ending quotation, and a period goes after the tag. For example:

“All I asked for was some eggs,” James snapped. “I didn’t mean to go buy me a hen.”

Action beats show the character’s intentions, actions, and emotions while their dialogue is going on. They enrich the text and give the readers more information.

The options for action beats go way beyond any possibility. They can be any type of action from slamming a door to leaning a head on someone’s shoulder.

An important distinction is if someone moves. Dialogue tags mention the character’s voice, but with action beats, characters move their body.

Action beats are formatted as a separate sentence and are not connected to the dialogue at all. For example:

“All I asked for was some eggs.” James flapped his arms in the direction of Mr. Gobbles. “I didn’t mean to go buy me a hen.”

As you can probably tell, both are useful for telling a story.

I hope this helps!

Want more?

#1 — Using multiple adjectives
#2 — Vagueness for tension
#3 — Repeating words for emphasis
#4 — Common misused words
#5 — Misusing hyphens

#6 — Unnecessary details
#7 — Not developing characters
#8 — The words feel and felt
#9 — Overusing character names
#10 — Adding too many details with commas

#11 — Different types of dashes
#12 — Not using plain language
This was originally posted on my writing blog.

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