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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Grandpa’s Pasta Sauce

I need a break from Tag and will offer two flash pieces as respite.

The first is Grandpa’s Pasta Sauce, written spur-of-the-moment for a class I took on creative non-fiction writing. We were given five minutes to come up with something based on a real event and humanize it. I read this piece when called upon and the teacher wanted to know if I really just made it up on the spot or had worked on it long and hard and offered it for comment.

Her specific question was, “Are you really that good or is that something you’ve been working on for a while?”

I offered it was just a good day for me.

This demurecation upset Susan greatly. “Why can’t you own you’re a good writer?”

That honest, simple question set off a storm of self-analysis, all to the good.

But you tell me what you think.


Grandpa’s Pasta Sauce

Grandpa cooked pasta sauce so hot your eyes watered when you walked into his kitchen. His fingers reddened as he crushed dried red peppers into the sizzling olive oil, the garlic, onions, and green pepper already skittling across the cast iron pan.

Next came tomato paste. A whole can that he practically cracked open like an egg because he’d been a dirt farmer all of his life and his forearms were veined like rivers running to the sea and his hands calloused like the earth itself after a dry summer’s harvest.


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A Tale of Three Critique Groups

Be so confident in knowing what you bring to the table you’re willing to eat alone until you find the right table.

 
Warning: This is not going to be a happy post.

I’ve been in three critique groups from the end of 2020 to now. One I formed, two I was invited to join. There were two more I helped form and turned over to others (both are non-US based and there were timezone and language issues which made regular exchanges with them challenging).

Let me be blunt.

  • Most people calling themselves writers have no hope of becoming international bestselling authors.
  • Most people calling themselves authors have no hope of becoming anything more than self-published wannabes.
  • Most people in critique groups want a pat on the head, a hug, and a rousing cheer of “Good for you! You put words together!” and not a serious critique of their work with the goal of improving their craft.

Some people proudly tell me they never pay for online courses and only take the free ones.

“How long you been doing that?”

A few years now.

“You been taking courses for a few years and your work still sucks this much? Put your money on the table now, honey, otherwise your work ain’t going nowhere.”

(you may enjoy the complete “Can I Be Honest About Your Writing?” series starting with Can I be honest about your writing? (Part 1 – Oh, the Vanity of it all!). I also talk about what makes a good critique in my interview starting at about 1:35m in)

What Makes Writing Worth Reading? Continue reading “A Tale of Three Critique Groups”

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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