I got this in my email from Creative Writing Now.
A descriptive beat is a small piece of action or description inserted into the dialogue. Here is an example of dialogue containing descriptive beats…
“I don’t want it,” Eva said, pushing the file back across the table.
James raised his eyebrows. “I went through a lot to get that for you,” he said.
In this example, the descriptive beats are:-
-pushing the file across the table.
-James raised his eyebrows.
Some ways to use descriptive beats in your dialogue…
1) You can use descriptive beats to slow the dialogue down, or to create pauses.
Compare the example above to this version, without descriptive beats:
“I don’t want it,” Eva said.
“I went through a lot to get that for you,” James said.
Do you feel the difference in the rhythm? In the version with descriptive beats, there’s a pause between Eva’s statement and James’s answer. In the version without them, James seems to respond immediately.
2) You can use descriptive beats instead of dialogue tags.
Instead of ‘Eva said’ or ‘James said’, you can show who’s talking with the descriptive beats. Here’s what Eva and James’s conversation with only the descriptive beats to identify the speakers.
“I don’t want it.” Eva pushed the file back across the table.
James raised his eyebrows. “I went through a lot to get that for you,”
3) You can use descriptive beats to help readers visualize the scene.
Particularly in long passages of dialogue, you want to avoid “Talking Head Syndrome”, where the voices seem to be floating in space. Descriptive beats allow you to provide some visual details to keep readers grounded.
4) You can use descriptive beats to add emotional layers to the dialogue.
Your characters’ body language hint at what the characters are feeling — which might not always match up with their words!
Compare:”I love you too,” she said, her face radiant.
“I love you too,” she said, but avoided his eyes.
“I love you too,” she said between clenched teeth.