Action beats are short modifiers before or after a piece of dialogue that describe what the character is doing in relationship to what the character is saying. Beats can be used effectively to change the pacing within a longer dialogue stream. Use them sparsely, at just the right moments, and they can add a great deal of texture to dialogue. Use them too frequently, and they will detract from the dialogue. Example:
“Look at me.”
“I’m looking at you.”
“No. Look. At. Me.” She moved her face to three inches from his.
“Okay. I see you. What?”
Action Beats Writing Exercise
Choose a longer section of dialogue from a work already written. The section should have at least five lines of dialogue. Now, remove all dialogue tags—she said, he said—and give one line of dialogue an action beat. The action beat should communicate both character gesture and mood. Rewrite the dialogue so that it is clear who is speaking in each line without the need for dialogue tags. Also, study the introductory paragraph and closing paragraph so that the narrative flows both in and out of dialogue in a manner consistent with the intended atmosphere of the scene.
Submit to Eckleburg
We accept previously unpublished and polished prose up to 8,000 words year round, unless announced otherwise. We are always looking for tightly woven short works under 2,000 words and short-shorts around 500 words. No multiple submissions but simultaneous is fine as long as you withdraw the submission asap through the submissions system. During the summer and winter months, we run our Writers Are Readers, Too, fundraiser when submissions are open only to subscribers. During the fall and spring, we open submissions for regular unsolicited submissions.
Note: We consider fiction, poetry and essays that have appeared in print, online magazines, public forums, and public access blogs as already being published. Rarely do we accept anything already published and then only by solicitation. We ask that work published at Eckleburg not appear elsewhere online, and if republished in print, original publication credit is given to The Doctor T. J. Eckleburg Review. One rare exception is our annual Gertrude Stein Award, which allows for submissions of previously published work, both online and print. Submit your work.
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Action Beats Sources
- The Age of Insight: The Quest to Understand the Unconscious in Art, Mind, and Brain, from Vienna 1900 to the Present. Eric Kandel.
- Caughie, John. Theories of Authorship. 1981.
- “Cogito et Histoire de la Folie.” Jacques Derrida.
- Cognitive Neuropsychology Section, Laboratory of Brain and Cognition.
- Eats Shoots and Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation. Lynne Truss.
- The Elements of Style. William Strunk.
- Grant, Barry Keith. Auteurs & Authorship: Film Reader. 2008.
- A Handbook to Literature. William Harmon.
- Jeong, Seung-hoon and Jeremy Szaniawski. The Global Auteur: The Politics of Authorship 21st Century Cinema. Bloomsbury Publishing. 2016.
- New Oxford American Dictionary. Edited by Angus Stevenson and Christine A. Lindberg.
- The Norton Anthology of World Literature. Martin Puchner, et al.
- The Norton Introduction to Philosophy. Gideon Rosen and Alex Byrne.
- Sellors, C. Film Authorship: Auteurs & Other Myths. 2011.
- Woe is I: The Grammarphobe’s Guide to Better English in Plain English. Patricia T. O’Conner
- Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Janet Burroway, Elizabeth Stuckey-French & Ned Stuckey-French.
- Writing the Other. Nisi Shawl and Cynthia Ward.