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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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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The Bone and the Bear

I originally wrote The Bone and The Bear in Dec 1999. I thought it a good, simple, fun children’s (YA?) story and nobody wanted it. One editor wrote that the protagonist wasn’t solving his problem on his own and I laughed; the protagonist made use of the tools at hand and solved his problem without violence.

But I never explain my stories to people. Especially editors. I may discuss issues if a rewrite is requested to make sure I understand the issues under consideration, but otherwise don’t defend, don’t argue, don’t explain. Listen. Is the reader’s mistaken impression of a story due to a story weakness? Fix it. Is the reader’s mistaken impression due to the reader’s weakness? Move on.

I sent the first version of The Bone and The Bear to an anthology listed as accepting YA. The response was they loved the story, but it didn’t fit the anthology’s SF/Fantasy/Horrorish mood.

Okay, not a problem. I edited (note: not rewrite, only edit) the story to make it SFish and sent it back (they didn’t ask for a rewrite) and explained I’d edited the story to be SFish. Hey, the loved it when it wasn’t SFish, would they still love it and accept it now that it was SFish?.

I heard back in less than a week. Yes. They’ll take it.

Below are the two versions. I’m a strong believer in stories being about people/character. Here’s an example of a core, character driven story being slightly modified to change tone and mood while the core story remains.

Enjoy!

The Bone and the Bear (original)

My heart sank when Dad called us into the kitchen. It had to be bad news. Bob knew it, too. He’s older than me, so maybe he’d been through it more than I had. But there we sat; Dad, Mom, Bob, and me. Dad smiled at us and, just like two years ago, said, “How’s the world treating my two men?”

Oh, no, I thought. What now?

“Bob, Danny, I’ve got something to tell you.”

Yep, just like before.

“You remember when the plant closed down and money got pretty tight around here?”

Bob and I nodded. That was the first “kitchen table talk”.

“Remember how Mom and I were really snappy towards each other and especially to you.” Boy, did we remember that. They were impossible. “Well, things got better, didn’t they?”

In a way, I thought. But Dad had to take a job two hundred miles away, in a place called Porterton.

“I got that job out in Porterton. And its a real good job, boys. Very secure. Lots of work. That place isn’t going to close.”

At that point I spoke up, “Does that mean we’re still only going to see you every other weekend?”


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Writing Mentoring

Next class runs 6-27 July 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”