Do your characters waltz through your novel, or are they bogged down with the beat? Let me explain.
"It's not what you said, it's how you said it!" he ranted.
Sue rose and walked away from him. "I was frustrated," she complained.
He followed her, not wanting her to get out of his sight. "You're more than frustrated. You're an idiot," he yelled. "If you think Dan is going to go for an idea like that then you're crazy!"
Okay, beats are action moments, or action movements. If it wasn't for beats we would not be able to imagine the situation. Beats tell us what is going on while our characters are talking. Beats help to create a picture and not just have talking heads conversing. Of course beats are important. It would be a pretty boring story if all you read was dialogue, but you were not part of the action. Beats let you peek into a room where a conversation is going on. They tell you what the woman is doing, or where the man is sitting or if she is fidgeting or if he is uneasy in his easy chair.
We love beats, but we don't love too many of them. If you use too many beats in a scene, you can lose your reader's attention. Too many he said, she said, in all the different forms that those beats can take, like John scoffed, Mary snapped, and a reader might yawn off and just decide to read another book. Of course you don't want that to happen, you want to keep your reader's attention. You want your reader to feel the hurt in the dialogue scene, or laugh or cry with the characters without being told every little thing. So use beats sparingly as you would spices to a meal. Don't lay it on too thickly.
It's not an easy task to beat out the beats that are in the way. It takes a lot of writing and re writing. I find that when I read my novels out loud, I can get a better feel or sound for the movement of the story. Am I going forward or am I backtracking with too much interaction, too many beats? So use beats, but keep the swatter handy so you can get rid of those pesky unwanted ones.
But you say, how many are too many and how can I be sure I am using beats to my best advantage? Well, beats are all around us. Next time you are with a group of friends or family, be quiet for a change and listen and watch. When Uncle Seth sits down to tell a story, watch how he sits, where he sits, what movements he makes while he is telling his adventure. Watch his facial gestures, watch the others. How do they respond? This is true and natural beating so take your clues from the non-fiction world and make mental notes, or if you are unseen you can write down your notations.
For sure reading is a good place to discover how many beats you should use. Of course not all books you read are going to be helpful, but even if you read a book that is too full of beats, you can make an exercise out of it by highlighting the beats you think are unnecessary.
So go to it. Get those beats out of the way. Choose carefully, edited furiously. Happy Writing and Reading everyone!