THE EMOTIONAL BEAT
Whereas description captures the outer world, inner responses in a scene give a reader access to intangible thoughts and feelings. In an attempt to appear objective, many firsthand writers omit character responses and their writing is spiritless. Emotions and insights are like the close-up shots in a film. Without them an audience feels disconnected, at too far a distance…
In narrative, a beat is the unit of the characters’ state of being which leads to the next unit. If you studied composition in school, you were taught to write essays and papers by the logical development of ideas. You were taught to have a topic sentence at the beginning of each paragraph, to develop your main idea, paragraph by paragraph, and to draw a conclusion at the end. The basic unit of development was the concept of each paragraph.
That’s not how you do it in narrative. Yes, as in exposition, you want a development of your subject by units. You don’t want everything to be a blur, a jumble. But in narrative, the basic unit of development is the beat, not the paragraph. So you have chapters, scenes and within the scenes, beats. Each beat is a micro-realization of the state of awareness of the feelings and thoughts of the characters, which evolve beat by beat by beat.
–Tristine Rainer, Your Life as Story
description (how much?–the telling detail, not adjectives or adverbs, get the audience to judge, use of motion, atmosphere—setting mirroring character, conflict or theme (remember “opposites,” especially between characters and within the central character)
introducing characters through action (suggest singularity and temperament, gesture–body language)
dialogue—emotional subtext (each character in a scene has an agenda) summary dialogue, indirect dialogue, direct dialogue, hidden dialogue.
realization–reaction, inner response, ie, emotional beat, not the paragraph is the unit, and its tempo is the changing intensity of your story.
changing place (and time), begin scene with establishing dialogue or description.