“Action speaks louder than words.” And in fiction, “action beats” speak louder than “words” characters speak.

In dialogue, try using a healthy dose of action beats (character actions/reactions) and fewer speaker attributions (he said/she said). And for tense scenes with two speakers? Straight action beats alone can add lots of power and punch.

Example 1

This excerpt from A Hope Undaunted shows it both ways—one with speaker attributions and beats, and one with beats only, which I think elicits more tension. But . . . you be the judge!


“Is that all this was between us then?” he said, locking her wrist midair when she tried to slap him. “A little fun while your rich boyfriend was off limits?”

“I never started any of this,” she said, jerking her hand free, “and you know it. It was you.”

“No,” he said, fingers digging into her arms as he pressed her to the counter, “but you sure finished it, didn’t you?”


She tried to slap him, but he locked her wrist midair with a painful grip. “Is that all this was between us then? A little fun while your rich boyfriend was off limits?”

She jerked her hand free. “I never started any of this, and you know it. It was you.”

His fingers dug into her arms as he pressed her to the counter. “No, but you sure finished it, didn’t you?”

Example 2

In this angry scene from A Passion Most Pure, I relied heavily on beats (underlined) since speaker attributions can slow the flow of tension. I did use two speaker attributions at the end (bolded) such as Faith “screaming” or Collin speaking “quietly” to help drive emotion home. 

She jerked her hand from his and stood, quivering as she caved against the chair. “I can’t marry you, Collin.”

He leaned in. “I know you love me. Can you deny it?”

She didn’t speak, and he jumped up and rounded the table, gripping her arms to lift her to her feet. When she wouldn’t look at him, he grabbed her chin and forced her. “Look at me! Can you deny you love me?”

She stared at him through a mist of tears. “Let me go, you’re hurting my arm.”

“Tell me you don’t love me.”

“I don’t love you.”

“You’re lying, Faith. I would have thought better of you than that.”

“Well don’t!” she screamed. “I’m not better than that. You’ve said your apologies, Collin, now let me go.”

She tried to turn away. He jerked her back. “I know you love me. Don’t you think I feel it whenever I touch you?” He pulled her close, and she cried out before he silenced her with a savage kiss. She struggled to pull free, but he only held her tighter, blood pounding in his brain. His mouth was everywhere—her throat, her earlobes, her lips—and heat surged when she melted against him. She was quivering when he finally let her go.

“You love me, Faith,” he said quietly. “You know that, and I know that. Your heart belongs to me, and nothing will ever change that—not Charity, not you, and not your god.”


For Julie Lessman, beats are the heart and soul of “movie mind.” Read more in her post “Keeping it ‘Reel.'”


Meet the Author

Julie Lessman is an award-winning author whose tagline of “Passion With a Purpose” underscores her intense passion for both God and romance. A lover of all things Irish, she enjoys writing close-knit Irish family sagas that evolve into 3-D love stories: the hero, the heroine, and the God that brings them together.

Author of The Daughters of Boston, Winds of Change, Heart of San Francisco, and Isle of Hope series, Julie was American Christian Fiction Writers 2009 Debut Author of the Year and has garnered 18 Romance Writers of America and other awards. Voted #1 Romance Author in Family Fiction magazine’s 2012 and 2011 Readers Choice Awards, Julie’s novels also made Family Fiction magazine’s Best of 2015 and 2014 as well as Booklist’s 2010 Top 10 Inspirational Fiction and Borders Best Fiction. Her independent novel A Light in the Window is an International Digital Awards winner, a 2013 Readers’ Crown Award winner, and a 2013 Book Buyers Best Award winner. Julie has also written a self-help workbook for writers entitled Romance-ology 101: Writing Romantic Tension for the Sweet and Inspirational Markets. Contact Julie through her website and read excerpts from each of her books at www.julielessman.com