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What You Need to Know About Combining Dialogue and Action

Hey, Lovelies!

Happy Valentine’s Day! I hope you enjoyed the Valentine’s Day post from earlier today. I had fun looking at and listening to all the poetry. However, we’re not here to talk about that. We’re here to talk about adding action to our dialogue. Let’s dive in! 

Why It’s Important

Adding action to your dialogue is a necessity. It’s something we as humans have to do when we talk.

For example, moving our hands when we speak or doing the dishes while talking on the phone. To a degree, we’re incapable of sitting still and doing nothing, and this needs to transfer to our characters.

Why? Well, it makes them more lifelike, and it makes dialogue interesting. I know one of the things
some people dislike about reading scripts is that the conversation gets boring after a while because it’s
just talking. It adds more detail and meaning to the scene and words being spoken.

Formatting Dialogue Tags and Action Beats

We went over dialogue tags two weeks ago, and all those rules are still important for what we’re going
to be talking about today. Here’s a quick recap on using dialogue tags:

We’re going to be adding a bit to those rules today. When we’re adding action to dialogue, keep in mind
that the punctuation for action beats is the same as regular, full sentences, which will subsequently affect
how you punctuate your dialogue. For example:

John walked over to the window. “It’s gloomy out.”

“It’s been like that all day.” Sarah had tried not to dwell on it, but she couldn’t quite shake off the feeling that something was terribly wrong. “Did you hear what they were saying on the news?”

Things to Keep in Mind

While there is no one way to add action tags to your story, they do add many critical elements to your
narrative. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re writing action beats:

  • It isn’t just action. It could be a thought or description instead.
  • They can help convey how a line of dialogue is spoken. For example, a character slams their fist on a desk before saying – “Get out of my office.” – we’re going to know that this character is not a happy camper.
  • It can help your pacing and tone. If it doesn’t add a lot of meaning to what’s going on, it can help change how fast or slow a conversation is going. An excellent example of this would be during a fight scene between husband and wife. She says something that makes him stop and rub his hands over his face, which will change the scene’s pace and tone.
  • It can ground the reader in the scene. As previously mentioned, without any action beats, the characters can feel like disembodied talking heads and distant to your readers. They keep the story moving. Action can save an otherwise uninteresting but vital scene moving. Let’s say that you have two characters flirting with each other over mundane stuff. By getting them to creep closer to each other and lead into that kiss, we can then have that explode as they move somewhere else in the relationship and/or environment.
  • It helps you develop your characters and reveal their personality. When we’re talking with someone, we tend to interact with the other person through movement and touch. Our body language affects how we’re perceived and reveals our relationship with that person. For instance, two new lovers are typically going to touch each other more blatantly than a couple that’s been together for 40 years. Not to say that the married couple won’t touch – it’s going to be in a subtle way.

That’s it for me this week! We’ll be talking about action next, so stay tuned for that. I hope you all have a
great weekend and a Happy Valentine’s Day.

Until next week!



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Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams

Danielle Adams is a writer and editor for a local marketing agency. She has formerly worked as a writer for the Investing News Network and as an editor for Whetstone, a bi-annually published literary magazine. Aside from writing, Danielle has an unabiding love for all marine life and the outdoors. She loves taking long hikes with her husband and cooking delicious meals in the kitchen.


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