How to use action to break up dialogue without disrupting the flow of the story?

I’ve been asked a writer question: How to use action to break up dialogue without disrupting the flow of the story?

It’s easy to do and hard to explain. The short answer is that you blend the two together throughout the entire story so there are few if any scenes that are entirely one or the other.

Yes, there are times that you must do either dialogue or action but it’s surprising how seldom it happens. Most scenes work well as a combination of the two.

So how do you accomplish this feat? You use the action as ‘dialogue tags’ to show the reader who’s doing the talking. In the process, you can also describe the scene and pull in anything else that the reader needs to know.

The following isn’t major action as in something that changes the direction of the story, but it gives you the idea:

Jake dropped the axe and considered his friend, who he’d ignored until now as he worked out his anger with the axe. He’d reached the point where he could talk without screaming, so he asked, as nicely as he could manage, “What were you saying about the fire?”

His friend walked a few steps one way and then a few more back, delaying the bad news as long as possible because he knew what Jake had been through. How one more piece of bad news would hit him. “It’s coming. Soon. We must leave immediately if we are to get out of here before it reaches us. Consumes us. Kills us.”

“Damn!” Jake closed the distance between them in two strides, everything forgotten except the moment. The past and all the bad things it had done to him disappeared. The future was all that mattered. He grabbed his friend with one hand and his discarded shirt with the other. “Why didn’t you say so earlier? Let’s get the hell out of here!”

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