"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan) (ajrose93) wrote,
"A.J. Rose" (Jonathan)

More Tricks: "Attributions"

93, all!

Most everyone who tries to write fiction has some difficulty, at first, with attributions -- you know: "he said," "she replied," and the like. There are only a handful of ways to make it clear who's speaking, and an endless chorus of He said, she replieds can bog one's narrative down pretty quickly...even if you avoid the adverbial swamps (he swiftly replied, she laughingly rejoined). These are matters of style, and everyone has to find her or his own. That said, (1) some attributions will be resolutely edited out by most all professional editors, and -- fortunately! -- (2) there are tricks for getting around the damned things.

(1) "Forbidden" attributions. I know: it seems logical and tempting to combine an attribution with an action...but, alas, nobody will let you: in the current state of fiction, these are seen as beginner's errors. "'Hello,' Dave smiled" or "'Come in,' Sandy nodded" will get blue-penciled out in a heartbeat. (Watch out for redundancy, too: "'Damn it,' Sally cursed," for example.)

The usual corrections, if you need to include both attribution and action: "'Hello,' Dave said, smiling," or "'Come in,' Sandy said with a nod."

Finally, be aware of your narrative point-of-view in a given passage, even in a story with a shifting POV. If we've been following Sandra's POV for ten paragraphs, she meets a man she's never seen before, asks his name, and we see "'Don,' Don replied," we've done the literary equivalent of crossing the camera's axis in a film. Even if the reader already knows Don well, Sandra doesn't, and the effect is considered jarring -- particularly if we're not making a total jump to the other character's POV right then.

(I didn't make these rules, btw; I'm just reportin' em, FWIW.)

(2) Avoiding the sumbitches. My favorite strategy with attributions is to omit them, wherever possible -- using them only when necessary either to (a) establish clearly at the outset who's speaking (then again, if needed, in a long or complex passage of dialogue), or (b) convey emotion or action. And for that matter, having established two characters in a scene, you need only attribute to one in a relatively short passage.

Sandra slumped onto the divan. After a moment of indecision, Don settled on a chair. "So how was work?" he asked.


"I'm sorry to hear it."

"You and me both. God, I hate those losers. You're not thinking of smoking?"

"No!, no. Just getting my glasses. 'The better to see you with, my dear.'"

A sour grin. "Take a picture. It'll last longer."

Oh, God: clearly he was joining her list of losers.

"This a party for two, or can anybody join in?"

"Bob! Hey, good to see you!," Don lied.[...]

Now that there are three characters, I'd be careful by speaking style and (sparing) attribution to keep the speakers distinct; and if tone of reply was important I could easily have made it, e.g., << A sour grin. "Take a picture. It'll last longer," she muttered. >> But I think we've established here not only who's speaking, but (thanks to his internal judgments) that we're seeing all this from Don's POV, right?

Happy to comment further, and hope some of this helps!

93 93/93 -- AJ

P.S. I said it before, I'll say it again: vary your sentence lengths and cadences (beats per line). Hi, how are you? / I am fine. / What's new? / Not much. / can be useful if one wants to establish tedium, but otherwise chops up the flow of a scene. Another reason to play with attributions: for rhythm, as well as clarity.


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