Yesterday was a series of moments in contrast for me. It went from heartening to despair, then to hope, to annoyance in the course of a few hours.
There are lots of spiritual paths that insist a price must be paid for good experiences, and that we must suffer through bad experiences in order to be worthy or appreciative of a good one in the end. Perhaps by experiencing joy we have a better sense of what anger does to us, and vice versa. Life, like stories, is broken up into beats.
In terms of writing, a beat is a unit of a scene. Each beat involves an exchange between characters, or characters and environment, where the action/reaction/revelation advances the story and shapes the scene.
Harmony and contrast, remember? No objects are beautiful or ugly in and of themselves, and no moment is horrible or hilarious in and of itself. A perfect moment is the culmination of everything around it – a love-child of circumstance and context.
Breaking up your tone helps each moment become clearer and more poignant. A slow, harmonious crescendo, (surprise, serenity, romance, tragedy) can sneak your readers into an emotional state; whereas conflicting beats (horror, humor, horror, humor) can make two opposite feelings play off each other for catharsis.
These contrasts are just as important as conflict in terms of moving a story along. Each beat is a chance to show off a different facet of a character or relationship. A beat can be a shout. It can be a the shift of a hand, a murder, or even silence. When you use many beats to say the same thing, your pacing slows down and focuses in on a single moment. When you use each beat for a different purpose (he said, she said, he gasped, she exploded) it ramps up your pacing to full-throttle.
“And what would humans be without love?”
RARE, said Death.”
― Terry Pratchett
Darth Vader: Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.
Luke Skywalker: He told me enough! He told me you killed him!
Darth Vader: No. I am your father.
Luke Skywalker: No… that’s not true! That’s impossible!
― George Lucas