Attribution via Action

People who’ve worked with my in critique groups or in my trainings know about attribution via action because

  • I use it often in my own work and
  • I use it often when editing/critiquing someone’s work as it tightens scenes considerably.

Almost a year ago I wrote

The desire to have characters do something while talking is good, the execution is usually poor, and now we’re dealing with attribution via action which I’ll cover in another post.

in Toing and Froing and now, for various reasons, here’s that post.

Attribution via Action became increasingly important to me when writing my last novel, Tag. I noticed the actions I used for attribution purposes were stale, generic, didn’t apply to what happened in each scene.

I’ll defend myself with “It was a first, rough draft” which is true. I recognized the problem and made notes in the manuscript to fix it during rewrite, which I will because I tend towards anality about such things.

And still, it’s better not to have such issues in any draft, especially first drafts, as the more corrections necessary the more time taken not publishing and promoting the immediate project and all projects together.

So as I often do when I recognize a weakness in my own work, I gave myself exercises to improve my storycrafting and storytelling. In this case, use attribution via action specific to what I want the reader to experience when they read the sentence/paragraph/page/scene.

I’ve also learned from workshops and teaching that the term “attribution” isn’t in vogue any more.

Sigh.

So some definitions/explanations first.

Speech Tags
The reader has to know who’s communicating in a scene. Knowing who’s saying what is often more important that knowing what’s being said. This is done by identifying the speaker with what they’re speaking.

Words like said, talked, shared, spoke, … are now called “speech tags” and use to be called “attributions” but far be it for a writer to use a single, exact word when a weak, two word phrase can almost do the job not as well.

Said, talked, shared, spoke, … are fine words and they are weak because they lack emotional content until we use a adverb modifier such as said angrily, talked quietly, shared emphatically, spoke loudly, …

A thesaurus helps because said angrily becomes hissed, talked quietly becomes whispered, shared emphatically becomes emphasized, spoke loudly becomes shouted, … becomes … and so on.


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Pantsers and Plotters (a neuroscience perspective)

 
Imagine you’re writing a story.

You could be a Pantser. Some people call Pantsing “writing by discovery” because the writer lets the story take them where it will without any preconceptions about where it’s going. Supposedly this is Stephen King’s writing method.

You could be a Plotter. Some people call Plotting “architecting” because the writer first writes some kind of outline describing their characters and what happens to them, and usually details chapter by chapter, act by act, or scene by scene the story from beginning to end. Supposedly this is Orson Scott Card’s writing method.

I like the terms “Pantzer” and “Plotter” because they’re easy for me to remember; Write by the seat of your pants or write out the plot.

My life before becoming a full-time author (you can read my bio or some of my career history on LinkedIn) causes me to think the real divide is between a writer’s conscious and nonconscious.

Conscious, Nonconscious, Subconscious, and Unconscious


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Throughlines

a recurring character/setting/element anchoring the reader in the story that keeps the reader interested

I use throughlines in my own writing and mentioned them previously in Using One-Line Summaries to Write Better Stories and Writing Mentoring.

Recent conversations demonstrated confusion; some people thought a throughline is the same as a plot line, some thought a throughline was an expanded TOC (Table-of-Contents), some thought…

I appreciate the confusion.

I also appreciate Einstein’s “If you can’t explain it to a six year old, you don’t understand it yourself.”

Therefore, I’m either about to explain throughlines to a six-year old or demonstrate I don’t understand it myself.

Let me know which I achieve.


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Linda Seger’s “Making a Good Script Great”

Linda Seger’s Making a Good Script Great is one of two books I recently picked up on scriptwriting/screenwriting because…well, basically because I like to learn, and learn I did. There are more pages dogeared, highlighted, and marked up than there are pages untouched.

 
Begin with the concept that storytelling is storytelling is storytelling and it doesn’t matter the medium because regardless of medium you want a strong, visceral reaction from your audience/reader.

Now recognize that any medium will touch on all aspects of getting that strong, visceral reaction to some degree; a character is a character is a character, a scene is a scene is a scene, dialogue is dialogue is dialogue.

Go one more to specific mediums emphasize specific aspects more than others due to that medium’s limitations. Literature can handle 1st Person POV handily, script/screenwriting not so much.

Recognize that and the next item is to learn ways to fake 1st Person POV in a medium designed for 3rd Person Limited/Omniscient POV.

And if you stop there and say to yourself, “But I don’t have to do that when I write a book” you’re missing out on an incredible learning opportunity. Sure, you may never have to do that in a book but learning how to do it and – more importantly – how to work with such a constraint gives you the flexibility to use that technique, parts of that techniques, concepts from that technique, modify it, et cetera, to make your own non-script/screenwriting work sing.


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Writing Mentoring

Next class runs 1-29 June 2022

You are a fabulous teacher. – Parsippany, NJ

 
Let me save you some time before reading this post by starting out as I did with Critiques: Online or via Email; Do you want to improve your writing? Are you willing to pay to improve?

If the answer to either of those is No then read no further, this post isn’t for you.

Answered Yes to both? Read on.
Continue reading “Writing Mentoring”