Friday, 16 July 2010

Getting the Beat 2

So I'm talking about beats and the rhythms of writing and yesterday I took an extract from A Single to Rome and added exactly two actions or thoughts to the basic dialogue. The result was monotony. This is I actually wrote.

'So, what did you think?' Kimberley said as they walked back to the car. 'Did you meet the man of your dreams?'
'You know Michael wasn't there,' Natalie said.
Kimberley made a tsk noise. 'I quite liked a few of them. They weren't all bad.'
'Which ones did you like?' Natalie didn't think there'd been anyone who could raise a spark of interest in her. But that was unfair: all her interest was directed at Michael.
'Toby, he was nice, and Jerry. And Guy, and that one with the big hands, I think he was David - I got a bit confused in the second half.'
Natalie checked her card as she tried to remember. David, David, David... 'Was he the shaggy one? No! Didn't you think he was a bit scruffy?' She wanted to say slobbery.
'I quite like that - I don't want them too prissy. And you know what they say about men with big hands.' Kimberley raised her eyebrows at Natalie, who laughed.
'But is it true?'
'Only one way to find out.'

Just looking at it on the page it looks better. The speeches are broken up, and there are several which have no attributions, no actions, no thoughts.

Attrib. Action.
Thought. Thought. Thought.
Action. Thought. Thought.
Action. Action.

It's a pretty random pattern, and is all the better for it. We need to know what the characters are doing and thinking, but if we get everything it's relentless, a bit like sitting next to some twit at the cinema who feels the need to give a running commentary on the film. The bits of dialogue without any attributions, or beats are like breathing spaces in the prose.

They also speed up the pace. Immediately after this passage comes a longish paragraph of Natalie's interior thoughts which slows the pace down again. Fast, slow, fast, slow - readers want the variety or they get bored. Most writers - all? - read out their work either as they're writing or editing, or both. They can hear the rhythm of the beats and instinctively are looking for variety. Listen to the rhythms of your writing. Listen to your beats.

At last! I've got my finger out and have committed to running some day courses:
Writing a Novel - 31st July in Bath and 18th September in Truro
Getting a Novel Published - 1st August in Bath and 19th September in Truro
Contact me on for more info...

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