The Winners! Stef's Captivating Opening Competition

The results of the Captivating Opening competition that I staged during January thru March are now in!

The selection procedure relied upon grabbing my attention as I swiftly browsed the Amazon previews of books ... much like one does in a bookstore.

I'd like to thank all who took part and sincerely lament that the final choices were very hard to make and many entries missed the cut by a mere hair.

Okay, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy but it was very edifying – I was surprised at the sheer number of captivating openings even though the competition had been hotly contested.

The Winner is… *roll of drums*:

Layla Roy has defied the fates. Despite being born under an inauspicious horoscope, she is raised to be educated and independently-minded by her eccentric Anglophile grandfather, Dadamoshai. And, by cleverly manipulating the hand fortune has dealt her, she has even found love with Manik Deb—a man betrothed to another. All were minor miracles in India that spring of 1943, when young women’s lives were predetermined—if not by the stars, then by centuries of family tradition and social order.

Layla’s life as a newly married woman takes her away from home and into the jungles of Assam, where the world’s finest tea thrives on plantations run by native labor and British efficiency. Fascinated by this curious culture of whiskey-soaked ex-pat adventurers who seem fazed by neither earthquakes nor man-eating leopards, she struggles to find her place among the prickly English wives with whom she is expected to socialize, and the peculiar servants she now finds under her charge.

But navigating the hazards of tea-garden society will hardly be her biggest challenge. For even Layla’s remote home is not safe from the incendiary change sweeping India on the heels of the Second World War. Their colonial world is at a tipping point as tectonic political shifts rock the tea industry, and Layla and Manik find themselves caught in a perilous racial divide that threatens their very lives.

~ ~ ~

The three runners up (in no particular order) are… *more rolling of drums*

Thanks guys for grabbing me with your salient narratives!

~ ~ ~

Next up we will be featuring Shona Patel as the author, a bright new star in literary ascendancy. Even for this typical Englishman, tea will never be the same again after reading such a captivating tale!

Stef’s "Captivating Opening" Competition

Entries now closed.

A huge thanks to all who entered this fun competition; I'm sure it will be very engrossing as I finally pare down the shortlisted - and for those who do not make the cut: Remember - judging always has a subjective element and this fun initiative has just Stef's opinion.

Thanks again all!

Without a doubt, the most important component of a novel is its opening – for unless you get the reader immersed and on board from the get-go they will quickly move on to the next (free) preview available on book sites such as Amazon’s. And this was the case even before the advent of electronic publishing. In bookstores, readers will perhaps read the blurb on the jacket and then open the book and read the first few paragraphs before either opting to buy or putting it back on the shelf.

So, with this in mind I am staging a fun competition, the prize comprising a 3-day promotion package from our sister site worth $81 and also a featured article on, which attracts thousands of readers every week. We are also awarding three runners up prizes of a 1-day promo worth $29.

The entry process is simple: In the comments field below, post the Title and Author name of your own novel, or one you recommend, and Stef will read the opening, much like he would in a bookstore or when buying a novel from Amazon (by using their “click to look inside” facility).

There is no point in multiple posting, or even recommending one already entered, because the object is to get Stef to read the opening (this is not a vote-oriented competition). Closing date for submissions is 1st March 2014, the winners to be announced (here) in mid March and featured on in April. The 3-day promotion package can be used on any three days during 2014, either separately or all together. For nominated entries, the prizes and adjudication are subject to the author’s approval, of course.

The novel must be on Amazon Kindle to qualify.

Keep it simple in the comments field: just the Title and Author name – Stef will ignore any blurb, including on Amazon, and will get straight to reading the opening in Amazon’s preview.

No correspondence will be entered into, so no daft questions, please...and please don’t post your email in the comments field or you will be spammed by third parties. Stef will either contact the winners direct via their platform or invite the winners to contact us via our email address when the winners are announced.

To see all the entries click "Load More" at the very bottom of the comments page.

Good Luck!

Please g+1 the competition below :-)

Editor's Choice ~ Blake is The New BLACK!

I have managed to discover another candidate for my coveted Editor’s Choice award.

Although I have only awarded the accolade to a mere handful of pukka new authors over the last two years, I find myself – yet again – lauding the work of the irrepressible Russell Blake and his new series, which chronicles the ups and downs of a Hollywood private investigator and his less than ‘useful others’.

Ladies, gentlemen, and hermaphrodites, I give you BLACK – well, actually, Blake penned this hilarious and well-furnished series, but I have been hanging on RB’s coat tails since heralding him as the ‘new black’ in authors after reading The Geronimo Breach back in 2011 (see my articles: Author Finds ~ Russell Blake, Paradigm Author 2012 ~ and What a Difference a Year Makes...).

And connections have disclosed that Blake has even more surprises in store in the near future – so watch this space... but first go out and grab the BLACK series and find out why Blake has become the most ascendant and prolific author during the last two years.

*Update* Wow! Blake has been featured in the Wall St. Journal and his surprise is now out! (co-writing with Clive Cussler!)

*Breaking News!* The Clive Cussler and Russell Blake adventure The Eye of Heaven is available for pre-order HERE! Orders are already flooding in for this collaboration and I fully expect that Cussler fans will warm quickly to Russell Blake's contributions to characterization, description and interaction.

Baffin Island: Husband-and-wife team Sami and Remi Fargo are on a climate-control expedition in the Arctic, when to their astonishment they discover a Viking ship in the ice, perfectly preserved—and filled with pre–Columbian artifacts from Mexico.

How can that be? As they plunge into their research, tantalizing clues about a link between the Vikings and the legendary Toltec feathered serpent god Quetzalcoatl—and a fabled object known as the Eye of Heaven—begin to emerge. But so do many dangerous people. Soon the Fargos find themselves on the run through jungles, temples, and secret tombs, caught between treasure hunters, crime cartels, and those with a far more personal motivation for stopping them. At the end of the road will be the solution to a thousand-year-old mystery—or death. Click HERE for more details.

*Update* And if you need any more confirmation that "Stef wouldn't steer you wrong" take a look at this article from the hallowed British newspaper, The Times!

*Update* Click HERE to listen to RB as he bares all in his latest candid radio interview!


I’m sure you’d all love to have RB visit here again with his ruminations and observations, so I will see if I can ply him with tequila sometime next year and get him to help me put the world to rights in a random (and drunken) article about Life, the Universe, and coffee vendors.

Oh, and if you want a great action series for Kindle, I strongly recommend the JET series ~ preview and purchase from Amazon. It's also available at all leading distributors, of course.

Barefoot in the Snow ~ a Christmas short story by Stef Mcdaid

Barefoot in the Snow

Living in a caravan perched on an old industrial tipping ground may not sound idyllic, but this particular dump was a cut above the previous ones. My dad had sited the van near a derelict farmhouse, and hooked it up to the electric main. He leeched the water supply from an old cow trough, and the pipe that lay above the frozen shale would thaw by late afternoon – on a bright day.
I liked it in Oldbury, and felt relieved to be invisible amid the obscurity of a large, impersonal school. A murky green canal ran alongside the half mile track that led to our home. The boatmen were a friendly crew, and during the school holiday I would go down to the locks, stamping circles into the ice-topped puddles along the way.

The weighbridge man greeted me with his usual caveat as I passed by his window. “You watch yerself, now – fall in that cut and you’ll be poisoned before you drown.”
I suppose he had a point; the narrow-boats ferried toxic waste from the same industrial heart of England that inspired Tolkein to write of Isengard and Mordor. The Birmingham of 1967 was equally intoxicating.

It wasn’t long before an open narrow-boat arrived, steam rising up from its noxious liquid cargo into the fresh winter air. I waved down to Dusty Jim as he wound the windlass to close the lock paddle.
His leathery face broke into a mellow smile. “Morning, young-un, I expect you’d be looking for a ride?”
I beamed my reply, and felt my head nodding in approval.
Jim laughed. “That’ll be a yes then, I reckon. Well, you’ll have to wait awhile – takes twenty flipping minutes for this lock to fill right up.”
The narrow-boat had seen finer times. Now, since put to pasture on the dark green waters of the Birmingham canal system. Blisters of rust erupted where the rivets held the steel skin together. The engine was sweet, though, according to Jim: “Sweeter than a toffee apple…never let me down.”
As we entered the wide marina I felt in my pocket for the slate stones collected on the way. The trick was to flick your wrist as you let go, watching it skim once, twice, thrice, hoping for a seven.
Jim tutted. “Oooh! I thought you’d have got at least a six out of that one. Try keeping your elbow in a bit.”
I pursed my lips and took Jim-of-the-twelve-skims’ advice. I turned on my heel as the slate spun out of my hand and skittered across the water – and skittered – and skittered. Yes!
Then eight!
Jim was grinning fit to swallow his ears. “You’ll soon get the dozen, young-un, now you’ve got the knack.”
Two sevens and a six quickly followed before we left the marina for tighter waters, where the frost-dew clung to the hedges and beaded the intricate spiders’ webs.

We heard the toot of the Cutty Sark. Jim hit the whistle in response and Bert came steadily about, steering his Oxford blue clipper alongside.
Jim gave Bert a wink. “The young-un requests permission to come aboard the Cutty Sark.”
Bert peered at me. “Well…as long as he doesn’t chatter me ears off all the way to Oldbury.”
Bert took pride in the Cutty Sark; his putrid cargo was contained in a thirty-foot butty, which followed obediently in our wake. Bert had many a tale to tell, and I was a good listener, lapping up the rich history that surrounded the hub of the Gas Street Basin. More canal miles than in Venice, Bert said.

He lifted me onto the towpath when we reached the lock by the weighbridge. “Christmas eve tomorrow, young-un,” he looked sideways at the low clouds rolling in above the horizon, “and it looks like snow.”
I waved Bert goodbye and headed for home. Santa. I’d often wondered how he’d got into our caravan. We didn’t have a chimney and the skylight was too small for me to get through – and Santa was quite fat. Maybe if I pretended to be asleep I could solve this mystery, but then there was a risk he wouldn’t fill my stocking.

My mum smiled at the look of shock on my face as she answered the door. “What d’you think, chuck?” she asked, caressing her new hairdo. “It’s Clairol Nice ’n’ Easy.”
I smiled. It did look rather glamorous.
“Your dad’s back tomorrow night, think he’ll like it?”
I nodded affirmation. Blondes have more fun, after all.

Recovering scrap metal from old commercial dumps was very lucrative during the Sixties. After leaving Donegal at the age of fourteen to dig our ditches, Dad had learned to drive every monstrous machine on the M1 motorway project. He soon got to grips with the huge metal-sifting plants and occasionally went abroad to help set up the mobile rigs. The dragline cranes could bite two-ton chunks at a time to feed the hungry hoppers, and within a year it would be time for us to move on to another site.

Christmas Eve and still no snow. The looming clouds taunted every hopeful young boy, until the early dusk sent them scurrying into their houses to fill the restless hours before bedtime. Mum sat in her chair and a casserole sat in the oven – both waiting for Dad. Most nine-year-olds would be fast asleep by the time my dad rolled in from the pub.
I slept in the bottom bunk-bed when my sister visited our Irish granny. It would be strange, Nod not being here for Christmas. My parents hadn’t believed her when she told them that I could talk as an infant, until they listened from behind the door. Nothing much had changed. I could only share my thoughts with Nod, my comrade-in-arms. Things had simmered down of late, though.
I liked to imagine Wild West cowboy escapades when drifting off to sleep. Skirmishing with the Apaches, like in the films my dad watched. Nobody got shot, we’d just chase each other around on horseback until I slipped into a dream – it kept the shadow-men at bay.
Santa woke me up in the middle of the night. He sneaked away before I dared to look, but a dark shape in the corner of the bedroom confirmed the visitation. I closed my eyes and became the Milky Bar Kid, shooting holes in silver dollars and throwing my lasso, to the delight of my cowboy audience…

Christmas morning. Ignoring the presents, I dashed through the kitchen and into the living room to find my mum and dad still asleep in the pull-out sofa bed. I crept back into my bedroom to examine the contents of the pillowcase-cum-stocking that Santa had left for me. That was when I noticed the plump flakes of snow slanting past the window. I looked out over the sprawling wasteland, now transformed into a winter wonderland. If only Nod could see it.
Breakfast followed the tradition we had on Sundays. My job was to peel the horse-mushrooms and Dad fried them with rashers, eggs and black pudding. Mum washed and dried the aftermath. The radiogram played carols as we unwrapped our presents. My dad got Old Spice and I had a clockwork train set, two exotic looking cars, and a giant bar of Toblerone with strange writing on the packaging. Dad offered me a game of ‘hard knuckles’. I accepted and retired after a few bruising exchanges, then asked if I could go out to play.
“Sure you can,” he replied. “Tell you what, I’ll bet you ten shillings you can’t outrun me, barefoot in the snow.”
I was taken aback. I mean, where had this idea come from? I pondered for a while. He had a distinct advantage in wrestling and ‘hard knuckles’, but I’d never seen him run before.
I cleared my throat. “I’ve only threepence.”
He laughed at this. “Okay, I’ll set my ten-bob note against your threepence, say what?”
A bone-crunching handshake sealed the wager and we were soon on our way, loping along the familiar route to the canal locks. It wasn’t long before the effects of sixty smokes and a bottle of scotch per day became apparent, and so I slowed the pace as the snow-covered path grew steeper. Funny, but my feet didn’t feel all that cold after the first quarter mile. Dad was a sight, with his shock of auburn hair bobbing as he wheezed his way to a more level footing.
“Will we stop for a while, boy?” he asked. “I need to take a leak.”
There we both stood, in the back of beyond, tracing tracks of lemon in the pure white snow. A warm, glowing moment between father and son.
“You ready to go home yet, boy?”
I shook my head, and off we trotted along the rutted way to the locks. Credit to Dad, he didn’t give in easily and he struggled alongside me until we reached the marina. At the bank, I took a flat stone from my pocket and gave it everything I had as it spun from my hand. Seven skims.
Dad whistled his approval. “Not bad at all, laddy. Have you any more of those stones?”
I had a pocketful. Always did. By the time the stones ran out we had tied with eight skims apiece. Dad lit up a Gold Leaf and asked did I want to give up the race.
“No, Dad. Let’s go on to the locks.”
“Call it a draw then, boy?” He smiled as though he already knew what my answer would be, and then finally capitulated on the condition that I ate some of my sprouts before laying into the dark and sticky Christmas pudding.

I never did get the princely sum of ten shillings, nor did I ever match the tally of Jim-of-the-twelve-skims, but something had passed between us while barefoot in the snow, and it filled my heart with fire.

Sprague Theobald ~ The Other Side of the Ice (and beyond...)

Breaking News!

Congratulations to Sprague Theobald on (yet another) Emmy award, this time for The Other Side of the Ice!!!

The Other Side Of The Ice

Sprague Theobald, Producer

At over three thousand miles, the trip from New York to Seattle is arduous by air, daunting by rail or coach, and downright exhausting as a road trip – but Emmy winning documentary maker and author Sprague Theobald is made of far sterner stuff than the average traveler.
Following a random discussion at a dinner party in 2007, Sprague decided he’d like to try the scenic route. And you don’t get more scenic (or exciting and dangerous) than taking the Northwest Passage option.

Largely uncharted, volatile and frozen for most of the year, the Northwest Passage has been the holy grail of shipping companies for hundreds of years: this potential short cut between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans would benefit shipping companies more than the Panama Canal – but it remains wild and untamable, a fickle and gelid mistress inhabited by towering icebergs, crushing ice floes, treacherous, uncharted shoals – and if that were not enough, hungry polar bears that love humans in a different way than a philanthropist does... The weather is not the most clement either: changeable and stormy, with blankets of fog that reduce visibility to a few yards – which is not the best way to navigate a fiberglass hull between boulders of ice as the surface of the sea is freezing around you.

The 8,000 mile detour, which took a further two years to plan and more or less everything Sprague possessed, was just as much a voyage of discovery as it was a documentary-adventure – it would give him and his grown-up children the opportunity to reunite and bridge the gaps in time and distance that inevitably followed when he and his ex-wife dissolved their marriage. You can preview Sprague’s novel The Other Side of the Ice and read much more about the fascinating journey by visiting or watch the candid fly-on-the-wall documentary of the adventure HERE.


Sprague has kindly agreed to answer some of my random questions about sailing, life, the universe, and everything (in no particular order):

As captain of the Bagan, and with a crew comprising your children and close friends, you must have felt a higher than average sense of responsibility for them. What was your darkest hour in this regard?

Although they were all grown adults, having my son and two stepchildren aboard brought and element of concern and safety that played out in the worst of all possible ways during the two days we were stuck in the ice. The Canadian Ice forecast had indicated and opening trend in the ice flow in Peel Sound. Being a forecast, it was wrong and led us right into an ice trap. We became firmly stuck in the ice, couldn’t move an inch backward or forward, slowly being pushed toward a rocky coastline. One thought kept going through my mind, “Have I brought my family together only to lead them to their deaths?” Not something a father ever needs to ponder.

Your daughter Dominique played a big part in forward-planning and logistics. She also took on handling any medical emergencies by training under a doctor prior to the voyage – did she ever get to try out any of her newfound healing skills?

During that five month period, time and again it played out that we were being watched over by some very benevolent and protective entity! I’m happy to report that although Dominique learned how to handle just about any medical emergency, we never so much as broke out a Band-Aid!

Catering for hungry diners can be difficult under easy conditions. Now you’re older and wiser – on a future expedition – what main course would you serve up to your crew that would lead to clean plates all round?

Nothing, absolutely nothing beats the basic hamburger! Vegetarians not withstanding, every time Dominique thawed some burger meat and started preparing it, the galley was constantly filled with admirers!

What item do you wish you’d taken with you on the 150-day voyage?

Because of the global financial disaster in 2008, months prior to departure for the Arctic I lost every penny of my funding. Needless to say that, unless it was safety equipment, at times I couldn’t buy the best of the best. Having said that, I wish I’d bought the top of the line satellite equipment. Our needed phone conversations and the ability to upload articles and pictures was very frustrating in that 40% of the time we could get a signal and at that perhaps 50% of the time we could keep the connection.

What item do you wish you hadn’t taken?

Our captain…

When the going got really tough, your crew responded in stoic unison as they faced the greatest challenges. This must have made you proud of them and impressed with their growing and associated strengths?

It was the same for all three of my children; I got the chance to see them grow up. By that I mean I was able to see them reach into some very dark and powerful places, asses the situation and come out of it determined to survive. My son Sefton and I were very close before the trip, my stepchildren, Dominique and Chauncey less so. By the time the trip ended we had seen each other into some very scary and perhaps terrifying situations, stood by one another and came out all the closer. I saw them react and take on horribly complicated and demanding scenarios, all the while not asking for help. I feel that each child reached a new “level” in life, a deeper understanding of not only it but themselves that “normal” life would never have afforded them the opportunity to do so. It was ironic – for the “professional” that I hired simply fell by the wayside; when the going got rough he buckled and collapsed mentally, physically & spiritually.

What is your favorite camera shot taken during the expedition?

Hands down my most favorite shot was taken by Sefton and Chauncey. We were in a remote anchorage while in Greenland and they had hiked inland a few miles to snowboard a small glacier. They took the chance to set the camera down, running, about half a mile away from the glacier. What came from this was one of the most beautiful and haunting shots of two tiny figures snowboarding on a very large and remote glacier. Perhaps the first in history to do so?

How did the reality of the trip compare to your expectations prior to the adventure?

The pressures of the trip; financially, physically, emotionally, spiritually were more demanding than I could have ever dreamt they would be. There was no way one could prepare for the tremendous depths mine and all of our minds tumbled into. So deep and powerful were they that I never used the set of noise-cancelling headphones I had aboard to listen to music. I feared that if I allowed the music to take me and my troubles “away”, when the music stopped I’d never be able to come back to reality. So fragile was my mind. Trying to function within this fragility and make sure that all regarded me and my leadership as “all’s normal” was a constant balance and I hope that I was presenting a convincingly brave front!!

So what’s your next great adventure going to be, or have you hung up your gloves for the time being?

When the trip ended I vowed to those who love me that I would never play out of the backyard again. However... I’ve had my eye on kayaking the length of the Connecticut River from Canada to the Atlantic. I’d like to do a film and again, a book on the history that I find. That takes money though, which I don’t have right now. I’m currently rewriting a piece of fiction I wrote years back. I’ve also been approached about doing an autobiography but don’t know if I feel I have that much to offer... yet.

Good luck with that, Sprague and thanks for taking time to share your experiences.

Readers: for much more about this fascinating trip, visit Sprague’s website.

 The Passage

Editor's choice: Zombie, Inc. ~ Chris Dougherty

Prolific horror/paranormal author Chris Dougherty has already achieved an Editor’s Choice accolade from me – and this was no mean feat, given this particular curmudgeonly editor was lured into a topic that I would normally shy away from: God – or the devil to be more precise – is a subject that I avoid like the plague. So I invited Chris over for a Q&A session following my being entranced by her uncompromising story The Devil Stood Up (read the interview Here).

So when I learned that Chris had contrived a new storyline during a visit to a burger bar, I was interested in what the premise would be – until after publication – when I learned the title of the novel was Zombie, Inc.

Zombies? … and me? Not exactly my preferred reading subject – and that’s an understatement: like, you’d have to pay me to read a zombie novel or watch a zombie movie, and I told the author as much in advance mitigation that I wouldn’t get on with it. You see, horror is not really my bag at all and were it not for my reading “Devil” I would not have given it a second look.
But it soon became apparent that this talented writer has a kind of tractor beam that pulls in the reader, be it their genre or not. I was wholly engrossed from start to finish by the premise, presentation and style of this hilarious satire. Top marks yet again, Chris!

Regular readers will know that I never “spoil” the plot, but you can preview the opening of Zombie, Inc. on Amazon Here (or Here in the UK) and decide for yourselves – it’s your loss if you don’t give it a chance...

Self editing 4 fiction #8 Master of the Beat

Beats are those small pieces of action within scenes and dialogue that help the reader to identify with the scene.

They balance the narrative and dialogue, and inform the reader about the actors’ traits etc. – they are also used in place of speaker attributes quite a lot:

“I didn’t mean to upset you, honestly,” Roger said as he gently took my hand.

can become:

Roger took my hand. “ I didn’t mean to upset you, honestly…”

Useful though these beats are for speaker attributes and to season the narrative, we must make sure we don’t “do them to death” and/or echo them overtly. Here are a few popular beats that come into this category:

raised his brows
cleared her throat
shook his head
walked over to the window
looked out the window
looked up
looked down
stared into the distance
scratched his chin
steepled her fingers

You get the idea… So we should always be on the lookout for echoes when using beats; one of the biggest culprits is ‘nodded’ – try doing a search for this word (and others) when you’re editing, and don’t be surprised when you find characters nodding all over the place and in painful proximity. To initiate a “Beat”  search in MS Word, press the F5 key and select “More” > “Reading Highlight” > “Highlight All” or to navigate them one by one, select “Find Next”.

Try to inject a bit of originality with your beats – to find inspiration, engage in a bit of “people watching” or take in a movie with an eye out for mannerisms and how you can coin them.

But even with clever, appropriate and original beats, we must ensure we don’t clog the narrative with them and disturb the flow of the narrative or erode the tension within the dialogue.

One of my favourite examples of how an edit can rack up the tension in a scene is from one of my favourite self-editing books – the timeless and priceless Self Editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne and Dave King (purchase HERE). Below is an example of an early draft of Fran Dorf’s A Reasonable Madness followed by the final edit:


"Laura's illness is very complex," I said. "If you'd just–"

"My wife obviously has a screw loose somewhere," he said. "I was under the impression that the family is informed when a person goes crazy."

I sighed. "Sometimes that's true," I admitted.

He said, "But you don't think my wife is crazy, or what?"

My frustration was mounting. "I wish you'd stop throwing that word around so casually," I snapped.

"I don't give a goddamn what you wish," he said. "It's obvious to me that my wife should be in an asylum."

What an odd choice of words, I thought. "There are no asylums any more, Mr. Wade," I pointed out.

He got up, walked over to the window and looked out, then turned back to me.
"Whatever," he said. "A hospital, then."
I took off my glasses, rubbed my eyes. "Why do you think she should be in a hospital?" I asked him.
"Delusions. You've heard of them?"
"Once or twice." I said sarcastically, beginning to lose it. "Why don't you tell me about Laura's?"
"Thinking things that are obviously ridiculous," he said. "Misinterpreting everyday events and people's behavior as having something to do with her-with this power she thinks she has. Oh, but I forgot. You believe in witches."

Now take a look at the passage  as finally edited:

"Laura's illness is very complex. If you'd–"
"My wife obviously has a screw loose somewhere," he said. "I was under the impression that the family is informed when a person goes crazy."
"Well, yes," I said, "but–"
"But you don't think my wife is crazy, or what?"
"I wish you'd stop throwing that word around."
"I don't give a goddamn what you wish. It's obvious to me that my wife belongs in an asylum."
An asylum?
"There are no asylums any more, Mr. Wade."
"A hospital, then. Whatever."
I took off my glasses, rubbed my eyes. "Why do you think Laura belongs in a hospital?"
"Delusions. You've heard of them?"
"Why don't you tell me what you think those are, Mr. Wade."
"Thinking things that are obviously ridiculous," he said. "Misinterpreting everyday events and people's behavior as having something to do with her-with this power she thinks she has. Oh, but I forgot. You believe in witches."

As can be seen, per our earlier article on dialogue, we have lost the unrequired speaker attributes (I said, he said, I admitted, I snapped, I pointed out, he said, I asked him, I said sarcastically). The fewer interruptions help with the dialogue flow, but, more importantly, we have fewer beats and the main character is no longer telling us his frustration was mounting (which is obvious) and the thought attribute (what an odd choice of words, I thought) is now gone – replaced by the succinct An asylum? in interior monologue style.
Better still, Mr. Wade no longer takes the hackneyed trip to the window to look out of it and the main character’s early sigh is removed and followed by more natural dialogue and Mr. Wade’s interruption, which goes a long way to creating the crackling tension in the scene.

To conclude, there is no finite formula for how many beats to put in a scene, but beware of inserting a detailed running commentary if an actor is performing a task during the scene – allow the reader to exercise their imagination to fill in the gaps. Beats are useful to inject pauses in a long dialogue exchange (if used sparingly) and to slow the narrative flow to give the reader a break from relentless narrative action. It goes without saying that beats can help to define your characters – be they nervous, belligerent, confident, arrogant, clumsy etc. Try to avoid, or at least be frugal with, common, clichéd beats – especially involving “look” – look, looked, looking is one of the most overused triplets in novel writing. If you don’t believe me, do an F5 search for “look” in your MS and see for yourself...

More about repetition and echoes in our next article:

Déjà vu

 Other Self Editing articles: