“Beats” and Attribution

It has been a while since I wrote about my writing. I put Naked Alliances in a drawer after my last edits following my beta reads. I wanted to give the MS time to breathe and come back and do a reread to get a fresh perspective on what else it might need.

One of my beta readers is a professional editor. He did a most thorough edit and made some invaluable suggestions on how to improve the manuscript. I have always had a handle on doing realistic dialogue well, but I have struggled with attribution tags and how to avoid them except in the most necessary of situations where more than one person is speaking. Unnecessary speaker attributions slow down your flow. Unless the speaker would be uncertain, giving no attributions makes for a faster exchange.

He suggested what he refers to as “beats” showing the speakers action at that moment. Eg. Rather than, “I think it’s time we left,” he concluded. Try, “I think it’s time we left.” His brow furrowed, his worry obvious.

There is a chapter where I felt the use of dialogue tags was necessary because there are four women talking and I did not want anyone to feel lost in the conversation. Here is a brief excerpt between two or three of the characters that demonstrates how the tags seriously slow down the read. I wanted it contemplative, yet needed something to indicate which of the four are engaged in conversation:

“So sad about Maria,” Patty said with a sigh.

“Not so sure what she saw in that politician,” Sabrina stated.

“I know what she saw and you do, too.”

“Well he’s hot for you now,” Sabrina reminded.

“He’s just a good time for me. I don’t plan to fall in love with him.”

“Maria sure did. Do you think he loved her, too?” asked Sabrina

“Hard to say. His relationship with her was politically motivated. But I don’t think Maria loved him either,” answered Patty.

“You don’t?”

“She lied to him,” Gail interjected. “She put on the act of devoted housewife and mother for his constituency. She partied with us on the sly every chance she got. I feel sorry for Tim and his loss. More than that, I feel sorry for him that she misled him so.”


Here is the exchange cleaned up. It starts with a couple of “beat” sentences and that’s all that is needed until another person joins the conversation and a “beat” is required.

“So sad about Maria.” Patty sighed.

“Not so sure what she saw in that politician.” Sabrina arched her overdone brows.

“I know what she saw and you do, too.”

“Well he’s hot for you now.”

“He’s just a good time for me. I don’t plan to fall in love with him.”

“Maria sure did. Do you think he loved her, too?”

“Hard to say. His relationship with her was politically motivated. But I don’t think Maria loved him either.”

“You don’t?”

“She lied to him.” Gail slammed the photo album closed and pushed it aside. “She put on the act of devoted housewife and mother for his constituency. She partied with us on the sly every chance she got. I feel sorry for Tim and his loss. More than that, I feel sorry for him that she misled him so.”


More examples of “beats” added to the MS:

“Jason Pauly, you don’t run,” Richard said while standing.

“Jason Pauly, you don’t run.” Richard was now on his feet.


“How long do you do it? A year, five, ten?” Sabrina asked.

“How long do you do it? A year, five, ten?” Sabrina’s voice was venomous.


“A lot of folk think bikers are bonkers,” Brandi said.

“A lot of folk think bikers are bonkers.” Brandi laughed and leaned in closer.


While best to have no attribution tags, when required, “beat” sentences show an action identifying the speaker when there are more than two and carry the story forward with momentum.

This is where I am today with my progress on Naked Alliances. I have cleaned up most of the attribution tags. I have a few places where I am tightening up the manuscript and minimizing exposition. Then, it’s done.

I would be out on the boat today if the weather was better, but it’s overcast and windy. Not good for boating.

What are you up to this weekend?

Any time for reading, outlining, writing, editing?

47 thoughts on ““Beats” and Attribution

  1. I’m cleaning up attribution tags in my own MS today, thanks to this! All of which I did know, but why, oh, why can we never see these problems in our own writing, while we’re writing? Thanks, S.K.! A timely post.


    1. Oh, we’re so lucky not to have the rain going on right now. Threatening, but nothing yet. I hope it waits until night. 84,000 words! That’s an enormous amount of work. Nobody can call you lazy 😉


  2. “Beats” are a great way to show who’s speaking and they have the added bonus of giving readers description, especially when we’re showing not telling. Your post does a nice job of covering the topic.

    I don’t have much time for writing this weekend. Getting ready to head out of town yet again. I could never have done NaNo this month. Far too many trips. Everything hits at once, I guess, but at least I have the time to attend to the family things I need to right now. That’s not always the case in this busy life!


  3. “Said” is an invisible tag, when needed. The reader’s eyes run right over it without slowing the pace. I’ll be writing this weekend, finishing my edits to my new book and then tackling the synopsis. UGH! Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving.


    1. “Said” has been my go-to mostly, but I am finding “beat” sentences help me avoid even those, while propelling the story forward. The synopsis is harder to write than the book! Good luck with that. I know you will do well. Happy Thanksgiving to you also!


  4. Good demonstration of how to make the changes. Another related issue is that readers need the beats for more than identifying the speaker. Dialogue that is completely unadorned is a script :).


    1. You are right about that. I know it is a trend to write with no attributions. It bothered me tremendously when I first started reading some contemporary works. They read like a screen play. The “beat” strokes help set the climate of the speaker in a book that screenplay writing doesn’t offer. That’s why they need a video/theater to show it. 😉


  5. Thanks for this SK. I’m one of those writers who constantly needs to remind herself to ‘show and not tell’. I’m hoping to get some reading done as soon as I complete the first draft of a short story I’ve been working on for several months…enjoy your weekend 😀


    1. I hear ya! I’m so jealous of those whom showing is a natural thing. I catch myself telling about emotions and instantly make the change now, but it didn’t start out that way. Beat sentences can help with that also, giving you a chance to speak on how a the character is responding with action to what is being said to her. Good luck with the short story. I think they are harder to write than complete novels because you have zero room for fluff. Makes for better writing though 🙂 You have a good weekend, also.


  6. Very instructive, S. K. The examples clearly point out the value of crisp dialogue without all the He said, She saids.

    What am I up to this weekend? Recuperation from the 4th trip to PA in the last 5 months. Mother’s house is sold, the contents finding new owners or recycled, and schnauzer Fritzie happy, clappy in a new home.

    Now to catch up with my writing. First draft commences in early January. Still blogging though and soon to reach 200 posts. You have me “beat” by miles! 🙂


    1. Some of my posts are nonsense. Don’t tell anybody. Glad to hear things are going so well with the estate and doggie is happy! I know you love going home and I would, too, but I don’t envy you all of that time on the road!


  7. Luanne has it right. Dialogue is about a lot more than just what the characters are saying. There should still be descriptions that tell you what the characters are doing and thinking and feeling while they’re talking. Good post.


      1. As I slowly make progress with part two of Northville, I’m recognizing that I will probably have to do more editing and re-writing with it than I ever have before. On the one hand, I’m dreading that. On the other, I’m looking forward to how it goes and seeing what I can do to improve what I’ve put down so far.


      2. Good frame of mind to be in. I don’t ever claim to be an expert, just trying to share what I am learning along the way in an effort to help others who might be struggling. Sometimes I can read something and tell that it it doesn’t read as well as I would like it to, but I can’t quite figure how to correct it. It helps tremendously to hear from people whose work I admire. I almost always start out dreading the editing necessary, but as I see the improvements, it is a whole other sense of having accomplished something.


    1. Cold (yeah, I know, it’s 66) …er than usual and misting rain. No boating 😦 Spending time doctoring up the manuscript and fine tuning things. Good luck with the contest. I think short stories are harder than novels. You have a word limit or a much shorter piece to make your point.


  8. You did a good job of explaining “beats,” Susan. Good luck with the edits.

    I’m not doing a whole lot of writing this weekend. My husband and I are finally going out to see movies I’ve been wanting to see, and we’re also getting ready for Thanksgiving. I’ve already started some of the cooking, but we have a lot of cleaning to do. 🙂


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