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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The trick to combining speech tags with action beats

Speech tags and action beats are a sometimes hotly debated subject. I know that in my personal experience I go back and forth on how to best utilize them.

Recently something happened that spotlighted this issue for me:
I was driving back from a book signing in New York. I was tired and a bored, so I stopped at a Barnes & Noble in Albany. There I purchased a mocha and the Star Wars: Deceived audiobook. The first thing that stuck out as I listened to the phenomenal read-aloud was the numerous instances where the author used speech tags, and often combined them with his action beats. I thought at first "This is distracting" but the more I listened the more I realized how well this worked. The writing was strong even with the numerous speech tags, stronger perhaps than it would have been without them. When I arrived home and returned to writing my novel, I let my mind flow freely, as if I was verbally telling the story. This worked extremely well. At least, I am happy with the results.
Below are a couple instances from my 2012 novel The Key of Living Fire (AMG Publishers):

Action beat only:
Cromlin laughed and the sound of it chilled Specter’s bones. “The power of living fire resides here, doesn’t it?” The creature slowly turned its massive head and gazed at Specter. “Were you attempting to stop this man from escaping with the Key [spoiler removed]?”

Action beat with speech tag:
The dragon was silent for a long while, then he angled his boney head downward and said, " I believe our beloved Specter followed the traitorous Auron into... [spoiler removed]"

Q4U: What is your opinion on this? Do you prefer no speech tags, few, or do you like them? Do you enjoy the combination of speech tag and action beat?


Star-Dreamer said...

Good post and good question. This one requires some thought. Hmmm...

I believe that it depends on the writer and the book. I personally use a lot of action beats and very few action beats with speech tag combined in the way you demonstrated. I do use action tags and then attach speech tags at the end of the dialogue more often than not. I've had to learn to cut back on some of these, because the text seems to end up wordy and the tags are often not necessary.

But ultimately, it does depend on the writer. After all, the writer is the one who should feel completely satisfied with their book in the long run. The book that immediately came to mind when you showed your example of action beat plus speech tag was Christopher Paolini's "Eregon". He combines the two a lot. I've tried in the past, but like I said, sometimes it works and more often than not, it doesn't... at least for my own personal writing. :)

Anonymous said...

I prefer action beat rather than speech tags. I like being able to imagine how a character talks , rather than the author telling how the character says something.


"Pleasant words are as an honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones." -Proverbs 16:24

In a world where morality is forsaken and Christ neglected, wholesome books are uncommon. The themes of my writing are love, self-sacrifice, and honor.

I see my generation turning from God to the gods of this world. I see homes torn apart in the pursuit of pleasure and self-gratification. Children are murdered by the millions every year . . . without ever seeing the world outside their mothers' wombs. Through fiction I strive to encourage those who are willing, to stand against these things and be heroes and heroines; chivalrous, gentle, full of righteous indignation, and the fear and love of their Creator.