Use Beats In Deep POV To Convey Emotion by Lisa Hall-Wilson - Canada


In deep point of view, we want to use beats instead of dialogue tags to attribute dialogue. Beats move the story ahead, they are more efficient, keep the reader deep inside the character’s head, and remove the writer/narrator voice. In limited third person, dialogue tags are encouraged (he said/she said), but they aren’t used much (or preferably at all) in deep point of view.

“Hand me that bowl,” Edith said. (dialogue tag)

“Hand me that bowl.” Edith waved her finger at the large red bowl on the top shelf. (action beat)

Action Beats

It’s a pretty easy switch to replace dialogue tags with some movement or action by the character speaking. This is known as an action beat, but if all you’re doing with that action is attributing dialogue it’s a stage direction. Stage directions have their place, but in deep point of view you want to use stage directions sparingly and instead challenge yourself to ensure every word moves the story ahead. Your action beats should also show emotion, or motivation, or priorities, etc. AS WELL AS attribute dialogue.

“Hand me that bowl.” Edith waved her finger at the top shelf. “The red one.”

“Hand me that bowl.” Edith stabbed the air towards the top shelf with a stiff finger and raised her voice. “The red one!”

For an action beat to do all of this, dig deeper than stuffing hands in pockets, running hands through their hair, or moving from stage right to stage left. Really be aware of the emotions the character is struggling with (both those they’re willing to let people see and those they’re trying to hide) and then add movements or gestures that reflect their emotions, their inner turmoil, angst, hopes, etc.

Jan sat and bounced back up out of her chair to pace. “But I really like him and he doesn’t even know I exist.”

Physical Sensations: Internal and External

There are internal physical sensations and external ones and these can be used to attribute dialogue as well. Both work well for powerful beats to convey emotion and move the story along.

Heart rate is an internal sensation. The sting of crushing snow in your bare palm is an external sensation.

Emotions are FELT inside the body, so google the emotion you want to convey and work with the physical symptoms. Consider flushed skin, heart rate, constricted throat, tense muscles, quivering muscles, numbness, sensitivity, tingles, shivers, prickles, stinging, etc. Various aches and constricting – throat, gut, shoulders, back, lower abdomen, thighs, hands, etc. show emotion or emotion withheld. Whether these parts ache, or squeeze, twist, have stabbing pains, get tense, or throb – they can all show how a character feels, what they want to do, etc.

Where do they carry tension or hold emotion? Where a character carries their tension can tattle on the kind of tension they carry. A tight and clenched throat often hints at words that are swallowed or stamped down, or some deep emotion (from the past) that’s kept under control though it wants to burst forth.

Choose verbs that convey emotion intentionally and strategically. Do shivers creep up their arms, or rattle their spine? Is there a stiff breeze or a chilly draft? Is it raining or humid, how does that make their skin feel? Are their clothes too tight, too loose, wet, bunching – what draws their attention to their discomfort? The character’s perception of these things can all be used to show how a they feel or show the WHY behind a decision.


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