Friday, March 7, 2014

Beating Repetition out of Dialogue Tags

with guest blogger Christina Rich

 If you’ve been around the writing world long enough you know there are a bunch of rules. Being the rule follower that I am, I tend to become obsessive. And, a little crazy when those rules change, especially when talking about dialogue tags. 

When I first started writing it seemed as if the rule of thumb was to be creative with your tags. He said/she said was no longer kosher.

“Jeremy,” she exclaimed as she ran toward him.

“No,” Old Mother Hubbard cried. “I can’t deal with another child. What will I feed them?”

Or what of this?

“Little pig, little pig, let me in,” Wolf demanded.

“No, no, not by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin,” Little Pig quivered.

“Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down,” Wolf growled

Soon we were hearing, STOP! What madness is this? Just use he said. It disappears. 

“Little pig, little pig, let me in,” Wolf said.

“No, no, not by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin,” Little Pig said.

“Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff, and I’ll blow your house down,” Wolf said.

Really… I mean, really! I feel like with the constant repetition all I’m reading is said.  

I’ve said it before, we live in a fast food kind of world and as such we do need to accommodate our readers. We also live in a hyper-sense kind of world. Look at our 3-D movies. Filmmakers are doing all they can to bring their viewers into their world. Soon they theaters will have a smell machine, one that will bring tropical islands alive, the scent of rain, the stench of death.

As writers it’s our job to bring our readers into our world, so much so that they have some difficulty separating fact from fiction. Have you ever walked away from a book, wondering what the main characters were doing now? Wondering if they were driving that old pick-up down the dirt road to lay flowers at their mamma’s grave? Wondering if the butcher cut the right piece of meat for Miss Mable, or whether or not little Jimmy finally caught that big, elusive bass?

Those are usually the books that end up on my keeper shelf. The authors of these books have done their job. They’ve created great characters and utilized their words with optimal effectiveness. One way of creating this effect is by utilizing something called action beats.

“Little pig, little pig, let me in.” Wolf tapped his nails, one at a time, against the bright red door.

“No, no.” The door quivered with each of Pig’s words. “Not by the hair on my chinny, chin, chin.”

“Then I’ll huff, and I’ll puff,” Wolf licked his lips. “And I’ll blow your house down.” 

Now, I’m not saying we need to cut all he said/she saids from the manuscript, but by replacing some dialogue tags with action beats we get to know the character a little better. 

Let’s look at one of my works in progress, Rescuing the Fireman.

“Hey there.” The way his voice cracked it seemed like he was the one suffering from smoke inhalation, not her. He held up a lime green gym bag. “Myrtle packed a change of clothes for you. Thought you’d need them.”

Casey blinked, and if his imagination wasn’t running too wild, she may have even smiled a little. It was hard to tell with the oxygen mask over her face. He uncrossed his arms and jammed his hands into his pockets as he stood straight. Drawing in a deep breath, he rocked back on his heels and noticed his boots were several inches into Casey’s room. What would a few more hurt him?

He took a step in and made for the television set. “I Love Lucy. Great episode. Mind if I turn it up? Of course, you could probably recite the lines word for word, but since you’re not supposed to talk just yet—”

Was that him rambling on like a nervous kid? He glanced over his shoulder. Casey’s eyes danced with amusement. At least he was doing something right. He sat down in the chair near the foot of the bed and rested his elbows on his knees. “I uh, took the horses out to my dad’s. There’s plenty of room. He put up a new barn a few years ago.” He hesitated, knowing his next words could send her packing her bags and leaving Groverton for good.
 There isn’t one single he said in there and we get to know a little more about Levi, about his fears and mannerisms. These next few lines from the same scene show us a little more about him.

All the sudden the air in the room seemed thick, choking, too much like hand sanitizer. He removed his baseball cap and ran his fingers through his hair. “Look, I’m sorry. I should have gotten there sooner. If I hadn’t been in the old rig when the call came in maybe I would have. I should have—” 

The warmth of her fingers startled him to silence. He looked down to where she touched his arm. He hadn’t even realized he’d gotten up from the chair, let alone had neared her hospital bed. He dropped his chin to his chest. “Case—”

“I wondered where you’d gone off to. Half feared I’d have to walk all the way back to Groverton.” Myrtle hobbled into the room, her hand wrapped around a young woman wearing purple scrubs. “He doesn’t like hospitals much. Actually didn’t think he’d step foot past them twirling doors downstairs, but he did. And look at you now, Levi. All cozy with my niece.”

Levi’s face grew warm at Myrtle’s observation, and he pulled away from Casey’s reassuring touch. The instant separation was like waking up from a coma and finding out she’d left without so much as a good-bye. 

“Well, I uh, will just step outside.” He folded the bill of his ball cap. “Take your time, Myrtle.” His feet seemed to take on the weight of cement as he headed toward the door. He turned for one last look. Her grey eyes filled with concern, no doubt for the horses. “I’ll take care of them until you get out.” 

I might be a little bias, okay a lot, but I just love the way he folds the bill of his hat, and what about Myrtle? What sort of image do we get of her from the accompanying action beat? It paints her much better than a she said.

Here is a scene from my heroine’s point of view. We don’t get a lot about Casey, but we do see Levi’s father through her eyes and how he’s changed since she’d last seen him.

Casey had thought with the distance and the time apart she’d be over him. Obviously, she was wrong. She climbed the steps in front of Turner’s Hardware and opened the door. A cowbell, familiar, yet startling, jangled above her head.

“How can I help you?” A lanky, gray haired man appeared from behind blue drapes. He’d aged some. All right, quite a bit. He looked like a man who was barely surviving. A man going through the motions.

“Hello, Mr. Turner.” Adjusting the purse strap on her shoulder, she walked toward the counter. “I wanted to thank you for letting me use your pasture and barn until I can get ours rebuilt.”

He peered at her from over the rim of his glasses. His brows pulled downward.

“Yes, sir.”

Okay, now it’s your turn. Find a section in your manuscript where you have some dialogue tags and change them to an action beat. Feel free to share your before and afters.   

Christina Rich celebrates the debut of her Love Inspired Historical, The Guardian's Promise, with a giveaway to one commenter. Winner announced in the Weekend Edition.

 A Kingdom in Jeopardy

An evil queen and her royal guards will stop at nothing to find—and kill—the rightful heir to the throne of Judah. When their pursuit leads them to Mira’s village, only her father’s bond servant, Ari, a man shrouded in secrets, can keep Mira safe.

Abandoning his life as a temple guard and becoming an indentured servant was the only way Ari could protect young Joash, the true King of Judah, from Queen Athaliah. But his sacred duty prevents him from confessing his feelings for his master’s daughter. With the future of their nation on the line, Ari and Mira will risk everything to save their people.

And if you haven't read the interesting story behind the sale of this story to Harlequin, take a moment to read it here.

When she was younger, Christina Rich tried to dig herself to China, loved Three Billy Goats Gruff, and had an obsession with maps. She gave up her dig to China but still jumps at the chance to travel even if it's just down the road. She loves watching modern takes of fairytales and mythologies on the big screen and still has a huge obsession with maps. The older the better.

Born and raised in Kansas, where she currently lives with her husband and children, Christina loves to read stories with happily ever afters, research, take photos, knit scarves, dig into her ancestry, fish, visit the ocean, write stories with happily ever afters and talk about her family and Jesus.



  1. Welcome, Christina. I'm sure Helen has the coffee on. I love a novel that doesn't use the he said/she said type of words. I'm finding that stuff in self published books, and it is so difficult to read and enjoy. How can I direct these authors to Seekerville without offending them? Have a super great day!

  2. LOL! Marianne. I totally understand your dilemma. I feel an infomercial coming on to the tune of bacon bowl.

    Tired of those same old, boring dialogue tags? Do dialogue tags got you down? Try bacon bowl err... action beats. Action beats will give your dialogue that extra added spice. You can even cook eggs in your bacon bowl err beats. So hop on over to Seekerville and see how action beats can beat the boring out of dialogue. ;)

    Maybe I need some of Helen's coffee.

  3. Yep, the coffee's on. I just didn't let you know because I was reading and lost track of time.

    I've also become much more conscious of this particular rule in recent months, Christina.

    So many rules. So many rules.

  4. I know, Helen. I really dislike rules. I tend to break a lot of them, but I can see the benefits of using action beats. Oh, and after reading Rifles for Watie, written many, many years ago I totally get doing away with ly words. It was a great story but it seemed like every other word ended in ly.

  5. Great post, Christina. I like to use tags that show action and build your character, or deepen character. I don't like to waste that opportunity by using the word 'said' over and over.

  6. I so agree... reading he said, she said, they said, who said, whatever was said, starts to drive me bonkers.

    You get what I'm saying.


    I prefer action beats or even a different word for said every now and then.

    I may show back up with some beats of my own, but it's late and I'm typing on my phone. It would take f o r e v e r to post an excerpt.

    Til tomorrow

  7. I don't think I've ever used said, and I could probably count the other variations "whispered or muttered etc" probably on two hands.

    But then I could break your word search function with "nodded, sighed, frowned, shrugged." The lazy action beats. :)

  8. Hi Christina,

    Great post! What a beautiful cover on your book, you must be so pleased. Thanks for sharing today about the rules.

  9. Loved your book and already reviewed it! Annnnnd I loved that scene the first time I read it, but I love it even more now. Great characters! I just need the REST OF THE BOOK.

    I'll paste a clip of my WIP later today. Must get some sleep!

  10. Great blog, Christina! And do you remember the phase where you could use 'said' and 'ask' but you had to follow it with a -ly word? Like "What do you mean?" she asked hesitantly. Bwahahahahaha. I was the queen of -ly words for a while. Then I arrived at Seekerville. :-)

    When I read out loud to the kids (I work in a school library) I struggle with the whole 'said' thing. They haven't cut dialogue tags out of picture books and it really does pull you out of the story when you have to pause to say "she said" all the time.

    Don't enter me in the draw because I have your book and loved it. :-)

  11. Thank you, Christina, brave person! I smiled in delight at your post on rule breaking.

    I love action tags and they do allow the reader a better insight into the characters 'character'. :-)

    Anything can be overdone. And I have read books where the action tags wore me down after a while... but an interesting mix of action tags, he said/she said, and other choice words makes a story so much better for me and more fun to read.

    A very refreshing post! :-)

  12. I never use dialogue tags. I always show the characters action or feelings so the reader knows which character is speaking. I think it helps with the show don't tell rule.

    Great topic, Christina! Good luck with your release. I love the cover and the blurb!

  13. I try to minimize dialogue tags. I used to try to lose them altogether, but as I wrote more books, I realized that not using them was becoming just as repetitive as using them all the time. So now I examine the paragraphs to see what fits best. And I usually do this on my second edit, when I'm cruising the story for the best emotion and word usage.

    I almost never use the word "said". I couldn't jump on that bandwagon if I tried, I'd have to go mince up a dictionary, add it to cooked eggs, and eat it as punishment for using "said" repeatedly.

    I get it in 2nd grade primers, it's perfect there.

    In adult books?????

    (makes scowly face and runs for anti-wrinkle cream, STAT!!!)

    No can do.

  14. oooo, Rifles for Watie - there's a blast from my past. Can't remember the proliferation of -ly words, but then, I probably wasn't looking for that when I read it *heh*.

    i agree with the he said/she said dilema. i do try to do the action beats as well. thanks for the reminder, and your example was fun to read - i think my heart could go pitter-patter for Levi.

    would LOVE to win your debut book (can't read your interesting sale story because work computers blocking the SYTYCW website). i've always liked the whole Joash/Queen Athaliah drama. actually there's a whole bunch of interesting stories in that section of the Bible. So cool of you to bring this particular fascinating one to the limelight.

    will have to wait until i get home to check some of my writing so i can try out more action beats dialogue. will be peeking throughout the day to see how many people post something.

    KAV For the kids books with the he said/she said tags, I usually just skip saying them when I read to my four year old. Of course, I try to do voices for the different characters too. That way, I only have to use the he said occasionally instead of ALL THE TIME.

  15. And Christina, I haven't read your debut yet, it's on my Kindle and I can't wait to read it, but my Kindle keeps finding its way to Beth's house.... And when it comes back here, I'm usually knee deep in small, adorable children.

    GRRRR!!!! Because I know I will love it, and Helen's, and Debby's new book and if my Kindle stays in absentia, I'll just go onto my friend Mr. Amazon and order hard copies. And I'd be okay with that!!!


  16. Carmichael was up in the middle of the night?????

    Virginia was up?????? AND FOR WHAT REASON?????


    Could she be writing?

    No. SURELY NOT!!!!!! (laughing in upstate if that was, indeed, the case!!!)

  17. Action beats were getting more popular around the time I really started writing, so it's become a habit for me now. But, I've also found that I like the occasional dialogue tag, because, like Ruthy mentioned, action beats can also become repetitive. Just see what flows best!

    A few lines from my Speedbo project:

    Thomas Wentworth just listened, as usual.
    “I encourage you to try it yourself.” Martin slapped the counter again with a finality that he probably thought would get every man in Rock Springs, Wyoming to jump on the bandwagon.
    Sliding Martin’s letter off the counter, Thomas turned and placed it into the box for outgoing mail.
    “Clinton Randall’s woman turned out right fine. And Alvin’s is a downright beauty.” Martin shrugged his beefy shoulders. “Even if they aren’t so easy on the eye, an ugly woman is worse than no woman, I guess.” He stared past Thomas’ shoulder at the envelope and his mouth twitched up into an ornery grin. “Although I may ask for a picture before entering any agreements.”

  18. RUTHY
    you almost never use the word said?

    well that explains why your books pack such an emotiontional wallop.

    note to self: lose the he said/she said if at all possible. find those emotive words.

  19. Christina, so excited for your debut novel!!! I love the cover, they did a great job!'ll make or break a scene, won't it?

    Action beats?
    He said; she said?

    How about something that sounds natural? Mix it up and sprinkle in variety. The biggest eye-opener for me is to read the scene out loud. Find the natural groove. I think your ear hears the need for dialogue definition than the eye reading it.

    Great post, Christina. And again, woooooohoooooo on your debut!!!!

  20. Every time I hear the word "cowbell," images of Will Ferrell and Christopher Walken go off in my head.

    Christina, I couldn't wait, so I picked up your book this morning.

  21. Christina!!!! You know I love your firefighter story! Can't wait to get to what's in my inbox!!!!

    And Christina helped me brainstorm WHEN my plot turny stuff should happen in SpeedBo - I'm getting awfully close to the first one which has me giddy with excitement :D. So - just over 2K yesterday for 161xx this month :).

  22. Morning Christina and welcome to Seekerville. And what great examples for dealing with dialogue tags. I love how you explained it so clearly.

    Have a fun day.

  23. And Christina your novel sounds exciting.

  24. I'm back. I wish I could keep up in the conversation but I should be able to log on tomorrow and keep up a little better. I don't know how you guys name your books before you finish them. I finally finished a book I've been working on for two years a couple months ago and I didn't name it until I was done. Gotta go... school :)

  25. Oh, Christina, love, Love, LOVE this, girlfriend!! I am SO with you on this that beats are the heart and soul of dialogue, so GREAT blog!!

    And LOVE this: "We also live in a hyper-sense kind of world."

    OH. MY. GOODNESS!! This is soooooo true and it has changed soooo much in our entertainment habits today where you have to catch the viewer/reader's attention right out the gate in order to reel them in, which, I might add, you did BEAUTIFULLY in your excerpts. I actually felt a tiny pang (God's truth) when the first excerpt ended because I wanted to know more, so that's great writing and it truly doesn't happen to me all that often. :) (Uh ... reading it, I mean. Hopefully not in my writing ... :|

    And SUPER CONGRATS on your debut -- what a unique and compelling story!!


  26. Good morning! I'm just now peeling my eyes open. It's nice to see so many of you using action beats.

    Nancy, action beats really can build up character, give them some dimension.

    Tina, I haven't really allowed myself to use anything besides said in a dialogue tag. At least not for awhile. I think that's because of a tweet I read not too long ago from an editor. And I never use ask. I guess I figure if there is a question mark the word doesn't need to be there.

    Can't wait to see your beats.

  27. Oh, Melissa! You've found me out. ;) I use sigh. A lot. I know I do. Not sure about the other lazy beats though. Now, I'm going to have look.

  28. Jackie, thank you! I love my cover. The art department really did a great job.

  29. Ginny, the check is in the mail. ;) Just kidding. Thank you for being such an avid supporter and more importantly a great friend.

  30. Kav, I have never heard that rule. Ever. That's interesting and I wonder if that is why Rifles for Watie had so many ly words. It really is a great book, just difficult to read out loud. It actually inspired my western Love at Twenty Paces, which is still looking for a home.

    I'm thrilled you're loving The Guardian's Promise.

  31. Mary, yes, anything can be overdone, and I totally agree with you and Ruthy. Finding a good balance is best.

  32. Rose! :) I've heard of authors writing books without using a single dialogue tag. I haven't read one yet. I'd be interested in reading one just to see if I even notice.

  33. Christina, GREAT post! And I don't know if I've said it before, but I love, LOVE your cover. :) It's just beautiful!!

    I learned when I first began writing to minimize dialogue tags. And, as you mentioned, "said" is not really my friend. At least not very often. I much prefer to show the characters in action. :)

    Loved this post, and your examples. :)

  34. Christina - Great advice! Thanks for this post.

    Back in high school (over a decade ago already!), we were taught to write descriptively by using tons of adverbs and adjectives. Later, when I got serious about my writing, I was shocked to find out that tons of -ly words equaled weak writing. I had to completely rethink the way I wrote, but the end result was worth it. Still, I notice instances from time to time where kids are being taught to use adverbs and adjective instead of strong verbs and nouns. Drives me crazy! :)

  35. DebH, I love Levi and Casey. I've always wanted to do a reunion story and I love. love, love this one.

    Oh, and I do the same thing-- skip over the saids when reading to little ones. ;)

  36. Ruthy, I keep trying to find a solid few hours to finish Helen's. So far it's fabulous. I love the immediate tension.

  37. Christina, this post is very helpful. When I'm reading I get tired of reading said repeatedly. This will help as I am working on my first book.

    I am hoping to get more accomplished today than yesterday.

    I am so grateful for the encouraging words yesterday!

  38. “Even if they aren’t so easy on the eye, an ugly woman is worse than no woman, I guess.” He stared past Thomas’ shoulder at the envelope and his mouth twitched up into an ornery grin. “Although I may ask for a picture before entering any agreements.”

    Victoria, this is too cute. An ugly woman is worse than no woman, and we get a nice picture of Martin. Nice!

  39. Good morning, Christina.

    Actually really interesting post today. I put it up and read it twice.

    I've never seen it explained so clearly.

    Well done, Emma. I mean Christina. Sorry, watching Emma 2009 BBC.

  40. Great post, Christian! Action beats all the way!! Love the cover of your book too :)

  41. Audra, I wish I could read aloud, something about playing with barbies when I was a kid and being caught made me self-conscious reading aloud. BUT, I've discovered text-aloud and it's awesome! Even in its trial stage and robotic voice, it catches a lot.

    I agree, a good mix, although I'm leaning toward fewer dialogue tags in my current manuscripts than in previous ones.

  42. Rifles for Watie? Must go look this up.

  43. excited about your book and am anxious to read it! I love the cover! Thanks for the giveaway...especially here on Seekerville where I first "met you"!!!

  44. Walt, I'll have to discover which movie you're talking about. There was this old hardware store in the small town we lived in that had a cowbell over the door. Very distinctive. The store has been gone many years, but I still remember the cowbell.

    Thank you for picking up my book, and moving it to the top shelf!

  45. Carol, you're rocking!! Keep it up. Soon the entire writing world will be Snoopy dancing with you.

  46. Hi, Sandra!!! Good morning! Thank you.

  47. Now let me throw something else into the mix.


    "Don't you dare leave," she said as she slapped the manuscript down on the table and tossed her hair over her shoulder.

    Awful little buggers.

  48. Haven, sometimes I have difficulty naming my books. Actually most of the time. Recusing the Fireman probably won't stay but I didn't know what else to call it.

  49. "Said is Dead! That's my mantra," Cindy said.

    Love breaking the rules. Do it all the time.
    My Kindle says I am 50% done with the Guardian's Promise. I'm trying to slow down because I don't want it to end, but I can't. I just keep breaking all those rules I set for myself to make Speedbo goals and read instead. Just sayin...

  50. Hey, Julie, thanks. I can't wait to incorporate the use of action beats with what I'm learning in Kiss-ology. Man, o'man, hopefully I'll be able to create tension as good as you do.

  51. It's not a movie. It's a Saturday Night Live skit. Go to youtube and enter the word "cowbell."

  52. Good morning, Jeanne. Thank you! I wish I had known to minimize dialogue tags from the beginning, but it's probably a good thing I didn't because I was able to pick up on some other rules which were just as important to know, like doing away with ly word. ;)

    Actually, in one of the first contests I entered, someone mentioned my tendency to head hop, only she made a typo (I assume) and it came off "you're head chopping". I was dumbfounded because I hadn't chopped a single head off. I even read over my piece, several times, trying to find the gore. Took me a while to figure out she meant head-hopping. :)

  53. Excellent advice, Christina! I try to avoid "said" words as much as possible. I'd much rather use a character action or some internalization to help bring the scene to life.

    When I do use a "said" word, it's more likely for clarifying tone of voice, or sometimes just for a little variety.

  54. Jennifer, isn't that funny. One of my daughters has me read over her composition papers before she turns them in and I'm constantly taking out ly words. I guess I need to explain to her why.

  55. Wilani, I don't know if it will help you but I work in 500 word increments. Of course, I'm often multi-tasking so the 500 words in about 30 minutes works for me before I need to switch laundry, do dishes or something else. I'm also a numbers girl. So if my goal is 5000 words for the day I'll break that up into 10 500s and cross off each 500 as I meet it so I can see what I've actually accomplished for the day.

    Keep pressing forward.

  56. Chalk me up for one of those who like a variety of ways for using said. Whether it's "said", an action beat, or even the occasional "growled." I know, people shouldn't growl, spit, bark,roar or snarl.

    Ok, here's an example of where I struggled w/the tag. It's for LIS.

    Jack plucked the man up by his shirt collar, got right in his face and vowed, “You ever go near my son—” Matt’s hands clawed at his back trying to get him to release the insensitive reporter, but all sanity had vanished. “I’ll kill you.”

    The word I struggled with was "vow." It doesn't sound right, but neither did the other 100 words I came up with. I could've left the tag out altogether. And this is the hero so he probably shouldn't be threatening to kill anyway.

    Any suggestions?

  57. LOL! Tina!!!! Tina!!! You're watching Emma? I have Austenland sitting on my TV stand waiting to be watched. I haven't had time.

    Okay, attributive clause, I had to go look this up. Yes, I am horrible when it comes to grammar. We've been going over various parts of speech for the last few weeks. I'm lucky I know what an appositive is. Funny thing is, besides the basics-- noun, verb, adjective, adverb and object of prep, appositive is the only thing I can remember. I'll be celebrating when I can finely remember how to distinguish between indirect/direct objects. *sigh*

  58. Thank you, Jamie. Just remember that there is a balance. I've heard, and agree, that there is nothing really wrong with telling when it's in the right place, but show when possible. I think the same goes with action beats and dialogue tags. There is nothing really wrong with dialogue tags, but the beats can enhance your manuscript.

  59. Well, I think I'm good on this. I never use he said/she said. Never have. Not even when I first started writing.

  60. I love this new trend in dialogue, although it does seem to create a challenge for the writer. But a good challenge! I don't cringe when I read "said" but I do when I write it, admonishing myself to do better. Christina, your writing is stunning!

  61. Connie Queen how about losing the vow part and tagging a vow thing right after?

    Jack plucked the man up by his shirt collar, got right in his face, “You ever go near my son—” Matt’s hands clawed at his back trying to get him to release the insensitive reporter, but all sanity had vanished. “I’ll kill you.”

    Not a threat - a promise.

  62. DebH, that would work. I hadn't thought of adding it afterward...

    I kept wanting to say he swore because it sounds more powerful, but not a good idea for Love Inspired.

  63. If I may . . .

    Jack plucked the man up by his shirt collar and got right in his face. “You ever go near my son—” Matt’s hands clawed at his back trying to get him to release the insensitive reporter, but all sanity had vanished. “I’ll kill you.”

  64. Carol popped onto Seekerville's blog to say hi to Christina.
    "Check your email," she said.
    Christina rolled her eyes. "You should use a beat, not a tag. Said is dead."




    I didn't quite understand what she did, but she apologized and that seemed like a bad sign!

  66. This is good advice. Anytime I write 'he said' or 'she said' I look at it a long time trying to figure out if I can use that moment to advance the story or reveal character.

    And sometimes I just leave the 'he said'. It's okay to do that some.

  67. MARIANNE!!! You can't assume Helen has the coffee on. LOL

    She has to come and DO IT!!!!

    Helen I can see you're famous.

  68. SOME WRITERS OVER DO IT WITH ACTION BEATS WITH EACH LINE SPOKEN. Recently I read work by the author who always mentioned face expressions or something that the character was doing. These fillers were forced upon the reader. Simplicity is the key. Yes, use action beats. But don't force it with every line spoken when the reader knows who's speaking. Don't over do it. So, I do use aked and said with action beats or nothing at all. We as writers start the dream, but our readers have to end it.

  69. Great post, Christina!

    I like a mix. Sometimes "said" works. Sometimes action beats are needed.

    Nodding with annalabro...action beats can be overdone. If too plentiful, I'm laboring to visualize the action instead of being totally absorbed in the story.

  70. I'm with annalabno, too, Debby. It can absolutely be overdone.

    It's all about BALANCE.

    Those end of dialogue tags and beats are where all (or most) or your backstory should go. One sentence at a time spread through the whole book.

  71. Oh, Mary, always the pessimist.

    Don't panic, people. Just had a mild scare that I MAY have blown up Seekerville. Or dethroned Mary from some important role behind the scenes or something.

    Pay no attention to the weird person behind the curtain. (That would be me.)

  72. Yep. Just leave it out, Grammar Queen. I think you're right. It looks so much easier now than when I was writing it. (Not sure if I should I say "yep" to the grammar queen.)

  73. Yep. Just leave it out, Grammar Queen. I think you're right. It looks so much easier now than when I was writing it. (Not sure if I should I say "yep" to the grammar queen.)

  74. Cindy!!! LOL! I once read a chapter that had over 50 exclamation points. Whoa!!! No joke! Now, get back to writing. ;)

  75. LOL! Walt, thanks for sharing. That was funny.

  76. Connie, don't forget hiss. ;)

    Actually, you don't need anything because the action is so strong that you don't need the telling part that the tag would do.

    Jack plucked the man up by his shirt collar, got right in his face. “You ever go near my son—”

  77. Great post, Christine! I love the way the story comes to life when you do the beats this way! And it's so much fun!

    Update: I'm visiting over at The Writer's Alley today, so I've been a little pre-occupied, but going to hit some writing this afternoon and evening, as well as bake my hubby a pineapple upside-down cake for his birthday. :D

  78. Way to go, Crystal!

    Megan, once you see where the action beats can make the scene stronger it's not that big of a challenge.

  79. Thank you, Christina. I meant to say in my last comment: I was reading your example, and as soon as I read 'he folded the bill of his ball cap' I just loved it. Little things like that are SO real and add a wonderful dimension to a scene :)

  80. Oh, Carol! :) Of course, I saw it. Had to answer another email which sent me digging through all 270 some pages of the next book. Took some time but I've got it done.

  81. Gosh, I was nervous about today's post. My brain hasn't been fully functioning for a few months due to a family illness. When I confessed my nervousness to Ginny, she asked if I was starting a war between plotters and pantsers. Of course, I would never do such a thing. ;) I didn't think there would be a dialogue camp and an action beat camp. I'm glad to see there are several of you that do both.

  82. I can't wait to dig through all 270 pages of that next novel later this weekend :D.

  83. Anna, I agree, especially if the beats are all similar.

    Linnette, thank you. (on my way to Writer's Alley)

    Victoria, I think that is one of my favorite pieces with Levi. It's just so him.

  84. Speedbo update.
    I'm at 7526 in 7 days. Goal was 1k/day so I'm right where I'm supposed to be. So far...

  85. Awesome job, Connie!

    Carol, loved the email!!!!!

  86. Hi, Christina!

    ...Um, so I just searched my MS and there's not a single he said/she said. Is there such a thing as too many action beats? Yikes! I may need to go back and add some she said/he said for variety and a smoother, less cluttered read.

    Would LOVE to win a copy of The Guardian's Promise!

  87. Christina!

    There are rules? Hmmm...I'll have to look into this....

    I tend to mix things up when it comes to dialogue.

    When there are only two people in the conversation, tags are almost non-existent. But I do use action, or the POV character's thoughts to break up the dialogue. Sometimes beats. Here's an excerpt from my WIP:

    “You stop right there.” The gun barrel wavered as the eight year old boy holding it stepped into view. The same boy she had seen yesterday afternoon along the Whitewood Trail, peering out of the covered wagon. Charlie, wasn’t it?

    “Young man, put that gun down right now.” Aunt Margaret’s voice was as commanding as if she was reprimanding one of the Sunday School boys.

    “Bunk said to keep a gun on any strangers coming around, and that’s what I mean to do.” Charlie squinted down the barrel and raised it a bit higher to aim at Margaret’s head.

    This was getting nowhere, and Sarah was wet and cold.

    “Come now, surely you can see we’re no threat.” She smiled, but Charlie only swung the gun barrel around to her. The gun wavered as he stared at her. “I know you, but I don’t know them.” He turned the shotgun back toward Uncle James.

    “Charlie, what are you doing?” The girl with the water pail came up the path behind them, and the boy tightened his grip on the gun.

    “Keeping a gun on them, just like Bunk said.”

    I use "said" occasionally, but only when there are more than two people in the conversation.

    “What made your uncle decide to bring you to Deadwood?” Uncle James asked.

    The two children exchanged glances.

    “There were some ladies in our church who wanted us to go to the orphan’s home,” Olivia said. “Uncle Bunk said he wouldn’t do that. He said he could take care of us.”

    “They called the sheriff to arrest Uncle Bunk.” Charlie scooted closer to the fire.

    “Charlie, don’t exaggerate. They only said they might. They said Will’s fare was at stake.” Olivia looked at Sarah. “What does that mean?”

    Sarah laid the biscuits in the bottom of the Dutch oven. “I think they meant welfare. That your welfare was at stake. It sounds like they wanted what was best for you.”

    “Yes, that’s it. That’s what they said. But Uncle Bunk said they didn’t know the situation and he’d see what was what if they tried to take us away from him.”

    Thanks for your post, Christine!

    Our Walmart hasn't stocked the new LIH's yet, but I'll keep looking :)

  88. Great scenes, Jan! Love that little boy.

    I'd almost do away with the Olivia said in the second scene and give her a beat, but only because you use said in dialogue quite a bit. But that's not a rule, just my own opinion.

  89. Thanks for the timely blog. I am trying to sharpen my writing with some action beats rather than he/she said. Back at the bookstore writing. This is my comfort zone this week as my inner writer's voice cannot cope with the audible voice of a toddler in the background. I give thanks for the wonderful women who are helping me on this month quest with the rambunctious 3 year old. Please include for me for any and all prizes!

  90. Really thoughtful post, Christina. I've been reading various blogs/your interviews about your new release. Congratulations again! I have your book already, so don't put my name in the cat bowl. Yay, for you!

  91. Drexler, great mix of dialogue.

    I might be jealous.

  92. I can't believe we're all in agreement here.

    Have the end times come?

    Is this Armageddon?

    Is the country in peril?????

    (notes date and time....)

  93. Everything in moderation. Like chocolate, dialog tags, chocolate, action beats, chocolate... see a pattern here? ;)

  94. Walt: spew alert for the cowbell SNL reference. so glad you mentioned that.

    Ruthy you mean it has to be the end of the world for great minds to think alike? or... just when you and the Connealy are on the same page, so to speak?

    SPEEDBO update: hand wrote 1,000 word backstory dump last night. (child unit was hogging my laptop) happy that i'm getting writing done each night. scared spitless because actual WIP progress appears meager and don't get me started on figuring out a synopsis. *heavy sigh*

  95. Olivia, I feel your pain. I do romper room duty about an hour a day four days a week. A house full of 1,2,3 year olds. Well, not so full, but when they all get to going it sure sounds like it. Then when I get home there is always some sort of noise in the background, Cops, Duck Dynasty, The Voice, barking dogs, three different types of music blaring from my kids' headphones. :) The coffee shop has become my best friend.

  96. Thank you, Lyndee!

    Oh, dear Peg, who said chocolate in mod? Hmmmm *raises eyebrows* In all seriousness, a Mars factory just moved into our backyard. Literally. Three blocks away. Some days the air is so thick with chocolate it give a new meaning to sickly sweet. Blech!

  97. DebH, tell you what, you write my synopsis and I'll write yours. ;)

  98. Christina, congratulations on your debut book!

    I like the action tags, too, because they flesh out the dialogue and give us a picture of the scene.

  99. Christina ~

    Super lesson here today. Thanks! Love the cover of your latest too.

    My WIP isn't to the writing stage yet. I'm trying to be a GOOD girl and do some planning with Snowflake.

    But I'll be sure to use action beats as I begin the actual writing.

    Keep up the good work!

  100. Hi Christina. Thanks for your clear explanation of the difference between dialogue tags and action beats. I had never really thought about the difference. Now I know I need to go back and eliminate and exchange between the two.

    I managed to get 657 words last night before bed and 577 in today. That brings me to 4995 for the month. Slow but steady.

  101. Thank you for the link to the backstory to your new book, Christine! Would love to have it! Finished 1000 words at the bookstore and am closing in on my goal of 1000 words per day unless outlining or doing character sketches.

  102. Thanks for a great explanation about action beats, Christina. I try to use action beats 4 to 1 over dialogue tags. I never want to waste words, and boring dialogue tags seem wasteful to me.

  103. Great tips, and so well illustrated. I've just sent this blog address to a new person in our crit group who doesn't have a handle on this idea yet. Thanks for writing it out so well.

  104. Pat W from Texas! Keep up the good work!!!! Speedbo.

  105. Thanks Christina! This was great info!

  106. KC, how do you like the Snowflake method?

  107. Pat and Olivia, way to go on the word counts!!! You guys are doing awesome!

  108. Hey Everyone! I want to brag on my mom, Jeri (Gearldine) Vanderslice! She is 75 & has a GREAT story planned. She is beautiful, intelligent, happy, and amazing in every way! I know you probably think your mom is the best, but my mom Really is the BEST! She's going to post later tonight. (She wants to win a prize!) I just love that lady!

  109. Rhonda, I like your method. It sounds like a good one.

  110. Thank you, Lee. I hope she is able to get some useful information out of it.

  111. Jana, I can't wait to meet your mom. It's awesome when a daughter can praise her mother like you just did. She sounds like a very special lady.

  112. Oh my stars, what a fun day!!!! I had to actually work today so couldn't get back here like I planned.... and you ALL LIVED!!!!

    Without me???

    Clearly I am not as essential as I lead people to believe, but here's the important thing:


    Yes, I have brought brownies fresh, hot Buffalo wings....

    Oops, wait, Friday... Lent....

    Brownies and FISH FRY!!!!!


    Food is a wonderful thing!

  113. Yummm, buffalo wings! Thank you, Ruth. I'll take that try, if you don't mind.

  114. Jeri, I'm so proud of you! My mother was a gifted author, so I can totally feel the mother/daughter stuff you guys have going on! So happy you're doing this... and I can't wait to hear more!

    Olivia!!!! You're rocking this! Go, you!!!!

    And DEB H.!!!!! Look at you, getting those words in! The Holy Spirit nudges are working! So happy to see that!

    So you saw me agreeing with Mary???? Pretty rockin' awesome, right????

    A nice surprise! And I have no idea who that Ruth Blodgett chick is.... Clearly an imposter! :)

  115. Christina,
    This was SUCH a great post. I read it early this morning before work but didn't have time to comment. Your advice has stuck with me all day. There are so many things to be conscious of when we're writing. Thanks so much for reminding me of how action beats, well done, really enhance a story.

  116. This comment has been removed by the author.

  117. Hi Christina. I plan to beat Jana in this contest that she and I are competing against each other (I know it is not a contest). This is going to be fun. She has a PhD, and I don't have one. My son is published, and I am not. When I finish my story, I will pay them to say, "Oh, Mom this is wonderful, really wonderful!"
    This is a very good idea for us to try writing. You know the old saying, you are never too old to try something new (even 75 years old)! Thanks soooooooooo much for playing the game with us!

  118. OK, I think Jan has us all beat so far. It is getting late and my head still hurts. I did lay down and slept, took tylenol and although the edema isn't as bad its still there. Tonight I am finally going to start sleeping up in my room upstairs, its warm enough with a heater in my room. that side of the house has no heat upstairs. Slept downstairs for months and missed my kind sized bed the whole time. I would ask for you all to pray for us as Mark left us today, yup just walked out with his stuff and poof he is gone ! Need prayers for the Lords provision for the children and I and for my van to be fixed, with no money that is hard to do. Jules, I think I need a bad boy mechanic right about now...just joking. For those who don't know Mark is mentally ill and this has not been an easy 13 year marriage, matter fact its been the hardest thing i have ever dealt with in my life thus far. No I didn't know before we married but I have tried and Evidently to him I have failed but God knows my heart and how I have tried hard to help him. Baring up under the trials. I was just learning about these beats as you called them this week when I had my work critiqued. I am off to go to bed, tomorrow is another day.
    Thanks Girls for loving me in the Lord and praying for us.
    Linda Finn

  119. Great post, Christina!! I'm a big fan of action beats. And, sometimes to make my dialogue pick up speed, specifically to add a sense of urgency...and sometimes romantic bickering, I won't use anything. :)

  120. Linda-
    Psalms 57:1 "I will take refuge in the Shadow of Your Wings until the disaster has passed."
    Just put you at the TOP of my prayer list. We will be praying, sweet lady.

  121. "Great stuff, Christina," Pam said.

    And congratulations on that FANTABULOUS release! I am on the hunt for it in Walmart. :)

  122. Oh, Linda... I don't how do you even think about action beats at a time like this. Sending a prayer your way. May God bear you up as on eagle's wings.

  123. Carol, thank you. I'm think about as I have 3 children and homeschool. I need to share what Gods laid on my heart.
    Long nap is what I really need

  124. When do you guys sleep? I am so excited to be connected with people that notice and grumble about repetitive dialog tags. My mom was editing a book for a friend and remarked that they nodded a lot. Like bobble head people. I think those somewhat stinging comments make the difference between a sad, lonely afternoon and a good read. I really hope I don't do that in my writing too much... Hey guys it's International Women's Day. Who knew?
    Anyway... focus Haven. I'm going to log on tomorrow and read the ENTIRE blog post before comments. We're making up about a million snow days so when I have access to the internet I'm super busy with all the teachers catching up.

  125. Welcome Christina, guess whos book I bought yesterday!
    actually I got 2 I also got Helens.

  126. Mary Curry, I live to encourage! ;)And hopefully help little light bulbs go off like they have in my head.

  127. Oh, Jeri dear, have you heard about Martha Rogers' story?

    I don't know how to do those fancy links,but I'm going to try. I hope her story encourages you.

    And, Miss Jeri, you have at least two children that would love to see their mother's book published and I'm sure will be willing to help you as much as they can. So go forth and write. ;)

  128. Oh, Linda, super-duper hugs! I am so sorry. Praying for healing and understanding and for God's wings to comfort you and the children in every way you need.

  129. Thank you, Katy Lee. Your book is still on my tbr shelf and now I really itching to get my hands on your next one too.

  130. Thank you, Pam! I hope you find it soon and enjoy it.

  131. Hey, Haven, I hope you're getting some writing done too.

  132. Thanks for explaining dialogue tags vs. action beats. I will keep your post in mind as I move forward on my WIP.

    SPEEDBO Update: I finished two scenes this week, but am having a bit of difficulty writing quickly without editing. Hopefully I'll master the technique by the end of the month.

  133. I am getting a lot of writing. Thank you for reading my rambling comment. Is it my location that makes everything on Seekerville from the future? I'm having way too much fun with this I think. Oh another pet-peeve of Haven's is when authors put dialog tags in the same spot too many times in a row. Haven has OCD tendencies and a bad habit of speaking in third person when over-excited.

  134. Thanks for explaining dialogue tags vs. action beats. I will keep your post in mind as I move forward on my WIP.

    SPEEDBO Update: I finished two scenes this week, but am having a bit of difficulty writing quickly without editing. Hopefully I'll master the technique by the end of the month.

  135. I finished the week with a total of 4,072 words. Hopefully I will get a chance to write some more this weekend. Tonight I was plotting out more of the story and I am liking some of the twists and turns the story is taking. This is really fun.

    I do want to be considered for all the giveaways. I am not sure where I need to mention this.

    I hope everyone has a great weekend.

  136. Linda, I am praying. Hugs are being sent your way.

  137. Thank you Salami. Night everyone

  138. Well written is always well read!!

  139. So glad you had great turn out for your wonderful column! Julie and I are here in Chareston and I didn't get a chance to stop by yesterday, but I hope you had a great day!

  140. Great article Christina. I'm still plugging away at my word count for the month. It's been easier than I thought...

  141. Christina, this is such a great post and something I've been learning about. Thank you so much for all your help during First Impressions. It has been so fun to see your posts on FB and I can't wait to read your debut novel (put me in the drawing please!).