Tags and Beats
Hello again and many thanks for sharing your time with me. As usual, I’m offering bits and pieces about writing. I’m hopeful the discussion will be of interest to you. Today, I’ll be discussing the differences between a tag and a beat, plus a tag mixed with a beat. For those of you who haven’t a clue as to what a tag or beat means, this is for you. I didn’t have the foggiest idea about what either a tag or a beat meant until I joined my RWA group.
Tags and beats are necessary to allow the reader to keep track of the speaker during dialogue. A story without dialogue would be boring beyond description, thus the tags and beats.
We’ll tackle tags first. A tag identifies each speaker in the dialogue:
He said, commanded, declared, informed and words along those lines are tags to identify the speaker. Often, the person’s name or position is used as an identifier as well.
Some samples from A Lady’s Vanishing Choices are below:
- Royce said, “It’s not obligatory if the words hurt that much.”
The speaker has been identified (Royce) in this bit of dialogue. In this instance, we won’t delve into the why of the speech itself.
- “But, Aunt,” he stammered.
We know the speaker is he. Stammered is the said of this bit of dialogue.
The sentence below is still a tag using said, but with a small description added to point out time has elapsed.
- After a full minute, Maggie said, “I do declare, you was much more reckless than usual. I suspect someone drove you to it.”
- He said with a smile.
A tag (speaker is he) while (with a smile) is description.
In the sentence below, he said is a tag, but comes with a qualifier.
- With a coaxing smile, he said, “I recall when you were a very young lady. I fancied you—thought you were the prettiest thing I’d ever run across.”
The coaxing smile adds dimension to the sentence. He is still the speaker, but the reader gathers another clue by the description of the smile. It’s still a tag.
- “Loose me now,” she demanded in a quavering voice as the apprehension in her eyes gave way to fear.
Although there is a description added to (she demanded) this remains a tag because no action was taken. Said wasn’t used, but she demanded allows the reader to know the speaker is she.
Next up—the beat:
A beat is something the character does identifying himself or herself as the speaker by action taken. Examples below are taken from A Lady’s Vanishing Choices.
- “Very well.” He threw his head back. “How did you become involved with the Frenchman?”
He threw his head back is the action taken by he, therefore the character has done something. This is a beat used to identify the speaker. No said, demanded, or etc. was used. The reader still understands he is the speaker.
- Royce rocked back on his heels. “Your cousin. Why didn’t you mention that bit a little earlier, as in when you first discovered she is one of my neighbors?”
This time a name (Royce) was used to alert the reader of an action taken by the character speaking. The action is directly attached to the speaker. That is his beat.
- He raised his brows. “And how may I be of service, dear aunt?”
The above is also an action taken by the character before he speaks. The reader knows this he is the speaker.
- She cleared her throat. “Discretion my dear fellow. I don’t wish to involve a mere servant. No more beating about the bush. You must carry a message to the Frenchman for me.”
Is the above a tag or a beat? She took an action directly connected to the speech. She is the speaker with an action (cleared her throat), not a tag of said, demanded, or complained, etc. therefore, this is a beat used to identify the speaker.
Now the tags with a beat:
- “There, there, love. Such a kick up. Tain’t nothing that bad,” Maggie said and patted Bethany’s back. “You tell Maggie all about it.” She supplied a handkerchief. “Sit here.”
The sentence above shows the tag mixed with a beat, the identifier and the action, both in the same sentence. Maggie said is the tag (identifier) while patted Bethany’s back is the (action) or the beat.
- “All right and tight, Mr. Simpkins,” Maggie said, handing him the package.
Both sentences above are tags (identifier) mixed with beats (action).
The sentences below are taken from An Enduring Love. They represent a tag (identifier) with a beat (action) as well.
- Rebecca backed a step. “You are insane,” she whispered and shivered as he continued to speak as if she’d never said a word. This one is still a tag (identifier) she whispered, with an unwilling action (shivered). That is a tag mixed with a beat. The same applies with the sentence below.
- “Ja!” Johnny said and nodded at the same time.
I hope I’ve made the information in this blog clearer than mud and that many of you found it of interest. Have a wonderful weekend. You can learn more about me and my writing at www.wareezewoodson.com. Stop by and view something about each of my books including those pending publication. I look forward to visiting with you again soon. Have a wonderful weekend.