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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Mark Hayes’ Passing Place: Location Relative

I read Hayes’ “The Strange and the Wonderful” in Harvey Duckman Presents V7 and was (am still) amazed by it (I reviewed it in Why It Works for Me – Mark Hayes’ “The Strange and the Wonderful”). I reached out to Hayes and learned “The Strange and the Wonderful” is part of the Passing Place mythos, so asked for an autographed copy of Passing Place.

It took a week to read the book because 1) I’m a slow reader and 2) I was savoring it. Passing Place is a fine meal, an elegant respite from the world’s chaos. I’m leaving the following review in several places and the baseline take-away is READ THIS BOOK!
Continue reading “Mark Hayes’ Passing Place: Location Relative

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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Cold War

My first draft of Cold War is dated 22 Jul 1987 and is based on my experiences in the arctic and working for USAACRREL: United States Army Arctic and Cold Regions Research and Environmental Labs. I wrote the story for a workshop. Self-reflection and -inspection wasn’t in vogue at that time and wouldn’t be for another five or so years. Most stories presented were tech driven and bored me. The one or two character driven stories were weak because the character aspect had to break through the tech aspect.

Anyway, since then it’s been published in Midnight Zoo ’92, Horizons Science Fiction ’99, Tales Told ‘Round Celestial Campfires 2016, and Daikaijuzine Sept 2020.

Enjoy.

Cold War

Home is…south? Gotta be. Everything’s south.

Which way is south? Can’t smell it anymore. Damn compass froze, it’s so cold.

Cold didn’t bother me the first 250 miles. Neither did the glare of the sun. Or the endless white. Or the total lack of smells. Someone told me there’d be weird smells up here. There aren’t any. Not this far north. There’s the smell of the ocean, humming beneath this glacier. I could smell the snow at first. That stopped after a few hours, after my mind got so use to the smell of white that it got blocked out. The winds don’t howl like I thought they would. They wouldn’t this time of year, anyway. But they whisper. The glacier surface is so flat I can hear conversations back in Mantinac Bay. They come to me when I let my mind rest, when I lay down to sleep. That’s not like in-country. You lay down in-country, any thing’s got legs uses you for an LZ, a runway. The ice surface is uneven, though. Up close it’s uneven. That’s like in-country. But nothing crawls over you. Nothing living, nothing but the wind.

I don’t sleep that much anymore. The monitor’s attached to my chest. Physically attached. They sowed it into me where the skin is thickest. So I can’t sleep on my stomach and when I sleep on my back I can see this damn little red light blink blink blink. Blink blink blink. Keeps you up all night, you know? Blink blink blink.

How much farther? I use to be able to do this in my head when I started. Mantinac to the Pole is nine-hundred sixty klicks. I’ve gone four-hundred. What does that leave?

It’s a long trip. Some nut told me the ice would smooth out. This from a guy with a Ph.D. in cold weather research. Guy learned from a book. That was back at USAACRREL: United States Army Arctic and Cold Regions Research and Environmental Labs in Hanover, New Hampshire. New Hampshire can get cold, when the Montreal Express comes in the from the north and we get a Nor’Easter heading in from the Maritimes. One year we had a snow squall New England style. That’s a hurricane in winter. It got cold. Not like this. This is a dry cold. They didn’t modify me right. I can feel it. Right up my legs to where my willy used to be. I can feel it.

I started with just over nine-hundred kilos of supplies. Stupid bastards. Over nine-hundred kilos in the sled, my body weight just under a metric ton. Oh yeah. They figured this one right. Each time my feet splayed, the fishtails on my soles picked up little slivers of ice that worked their way in. Deep. Kind of like shin splints that itch. I’ve only used a third of the supplies. That part of the design went right, anyway. Big as I am, I don’t need much food anymore. How ’bout that, mom? Mother never raised no tiny children, she used to say. What you think of your poor boy now, momma? They took what you and papa made one night and made me something no woman will look at again.

Everybody thinks they find test subjects in jails. He’s a lifer, he’ll do this to get out. Maybe a college student who needs extra beer money. Oh, and there’s this one, where they volunteer some private to go hazard. You know how Garrett got to be The Flash? Fricken’ lightening hits his lab bench and douses him with chemicals. Fricken’ Bruce Banner would have a tumor the size of a football if he ever sat in a gamma ray like they said. Remember ‘When Captain America throws his mighty shield’? The next line should have been ‘That ninety pound wimp gets a dick as hard as steel.’

Used to read comics all the time. Can’t remember too many of them now.

How much further do I have to go?

Got this thing in the side of my head. They said it was like what they did to help me walk after Charlie sent me a baseball as I jumped off the Rome. I never walked right. They said they would fix all that, too. Make me a fricken’ Steve Austin. Fuck. This thing in my head, under this plate, it listens to me and signals some satellite where I am and how I’m doing okay.


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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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