Tag Archives: attribution tags

“Beats” and Attribution

It has been a while since I wrote about my writing. I put Naked Alliances in a drawer after my last edits following my beta reads. I wanted to give the MS time to breathe and come back and do a reread to get a fresh perspective on what else it might need.

One of my beta readers is a professional editor. He did a most thorough edit and made some invaluable suggestions on how to improve the manuscript. I have always had a handle on doing realistic dialogue well, but I have struggled with attribution tags and how to avoid them except in the most necessary of situations where more than one person is speaking. Unnecessary speaker attributions slow down your flow. Unless the speaker would be uncertain, giving no attributions makes for a faster exchange.

He suggested what he refers to as “beats” showing the speakers action at that moment. Eg. Rather than, “I think it’s time we left,” he concluded. Try, “I think it’s time we left.” His brow furrowed, his worry obvious.

There is a chapter where I felt the use of dialogue tags was necessary because there are four women talking and I did not want anyone to feel lost in the conversation. Here is a brief excerpt between two or three of the characters that demonstrates how the tags seriously slow down the read. I wanted it contemplative, yet needed something to indicate which of the four are engaged in conversation:

“So sad about Maria,” Patty said with a sigh.

“Not so sure what she saw in that politician,” Sabrina stated.

“I know what she saw and you do, too.”

“Well he’s hot for you now,” Sabrina reminded.

“He’s just a good time for me. I don’t plan to fall in love with him.”

“Maria sure did. Do you think he loved her, too?” asked Sabrina

“Hard to say. His relationship with her was politically motivated. But I don’t think Maria loved him either,” answered Patty.

“You don’t?”

“She lied to him,” Gail interjected. “She put on the act of devoted housewife and mother for his constituency. She partied with us on the sly every chance she got. I feel sorry for Tim and his loss. More than that, I feel sorry for him that she misled him so.”

 

Here is the exchange cleaned up. It starts with a couple of “beat” sentences and that’s all that is needed until another person joins the conversation and a “beat” is required.

“So sad about Maria.” Patty sighed.

“Not so sure what she saw in that politician.” Sabrina arched her overdone brows.

“I know what she saw and you do, too.”

“Well he’s hot for you now.”

“He’s just a good time for me. I don’t plan to fall in love with him.”

“Maria sure did. Do you think he loved her, too?”

“Hard to say. His relationship with her was politically motivated. But I don’t think Maria loved him either.”

“You don’t?”

“She lied to him.” Gail slammed the photo album closed and pushed it aside. “She put on the act of devoted housewife and mother for his constituency. She partied with us on the sly every chance she got. I feel sorry for Tim and his loss. More than that, I feel sorry for him that she misled him so.”

 

More examples of “beats” added to the MS:

“Jason Pauly, you don’t run,” Richard said while standing.

“Jason Pauly, you don’t run.” Richard was now on his feet.

 

“How long do you do it? A year, five, ten?” Sabrina asked.

“How long do you do it? A year, five, ten?” Sabrina’s voice was venomous.

 

“A lot of folk think bikers are bonkers,” Brandi said.

“A lot of folk think bikers are bonkers.” Brandi laughed and leaned in closer.

 

While best to have no attribution tags, when required, “beat” sentences show an action identifying the speaker when there are more than two and carry the story forward with momentum.

This is where I am today with my progress on Naked Alliances. I have cleaned up most of the attribution tags. I have a few places where I am tightening up the manuscript and minimizing exposition. Then, it’s done.

I would be out on the boat today if the weather was better, but it’s overcast and windy. Not good for boating.

What are you up to this weekend?

Any time for reading, outlining, writing, editing?

Readers, Writers and Editors: Need Help and Thoughts on Attribution and Dialog Tags

 

SAID_thumb4I have some questions about attribution or dialog tags.

When I wrote the first manuscript of “Red Clay and Roses”, I used very few attribution tags in dialog. Often the action was stated and a comma indicated the quote, followed by the quote, and the end quote.

When the work was edited, the editor told me that I needed more attribution tags throughout the manuscript.

It was a lot of work to go back and add these. The work seemed chopped up to me. There seemed much greater pauses in the action than I had intended. It was also a challenge to come up with unique and original tags for such a long manuscript. The flow was affected, but I left them. The editor said it read better, but I felt I lost some of the writing style.

Now, I am working on a new manuscript. Again, the only time I have been using attribution tags is when I want to indicate a certain tone of voice, or a thought the character is having.

I don’t really want to go back and edit these into the entire manuscript, so I am asking for thoughts on this. Is it a style issue or am I clearly wrong to write so much dialog without attribution tags.

******************************SPOILER ALERT***********************************

Here is an example from my new WIP:

Original

Snatching open the screened door, Claudette found her mother writhing on the living room floor in front of the piano. Blood oozed from a wound on her head. Her limbs twitched and jerked violently and her eyes rolled back. Her jaw was locked. Claudette saw her daddy standing in the kitchen, gun in hand. “I didn’t shoot her! But maybe I should have! She’s having an epileptic fit. I think she hit her head on the piano bench when she fell.”

Claudette looked mildly reassured and knelt beside her mother, “Hand me a cold rag.”

Hershel wet a cloth and brought it to his daughter. “Laura Belle Barber, my own wife, pulled a gun on me, Claudette! She was angry about yesterday’s tips being too little to buy any groceries, she accused me of holding back money from the family to buy liquor, and she pulled a God damned gun on me! I didn’t even know she had a gun!”

Laura Belle relaxed and was snoring deeply in post convulsion slumber. Hershel laid the small pistol on the counter next to the sink, “She pointed the gun at my face, and I pushed her back, grabbing the gun, and that’s when it went off.” He pointed to the hole in the ceiling, “I guess we best check upstairs and make sure nobody got hurt.”

“You do that, Daddy. It’s a small scrape, nothing serious. I’ve got things here. Go on to work afterward. You’re going to be late. You don’t need to be here if someone has called the police. Check with the Marshes upstairs. Tell them you were cleaning the gun when it went off, and then go on to Chuck’s. Here’s your music, get going.” She passed him his briefcase from beside the piano.

Hershel took his briefcase from Claudette as she went back to tending her mother’s wound, “Where’s Carol?”

“I left her outside, just go, Daddy. Like I said, I have things here under control.”

After I added Tags:

Snatching open the screened door, Claudette found her mother writhing on the living room floor in front of the piano. Blood oozed from a wound on her head. Her limbs twitched and jerked violently and her eyes rolled back. Her jaw was locked. Claudette saw her daddy standing in the kitchen, gun in hand.  He immediately began to defend himself, “I didn’t shoot her! But maybe I should have! She’s having an epileptic fit. I think she hit her head on the piano bench when she fell.”

Claudette looked mildly reassured and knelt beside her mother, “Hand me a cold rag,” she demanded.

Hershel wet a cloth and brought it to his daughter. “Laura Belle Barber, my own wife, pulled a gun on me, Claudette!” He explained, “She was angry about yesterday’s tips being too little to buy any groceries, she accused me of holding back money from the family to buy liquor, and she pulled a God damned gun on me! I didn’t even know she had a gun!”

Laura Belle relaxed and was snoring deeply in post convulsion slumber. Hershel laid the small pistol on the counter next to the sink, he continued, “She pointed the gun at my face, and I pushed her back, grabbing the gun, and that’s when it went off.” He pointed to the hole in the ceiling, “I guess we best check upstairs and make sure nobody got hurt.”

“You do that, Daddy. It’s a small scrape, nothing serious. I’ve got things here. Go on to work afterward. You’re going to be late. You don’t need to be here if someone has called the police. Check with the Marshes upstairs. Tell them you were cleaning the gun when it went off, and then go on to Chuck’s. Here’s your music,” she offered, “get going.” She passed him his briefcase from beside the piano.

Hershel took his briefcase from Claudette, as she went back to tending her mother’s wound, and asked, “Where’s Carol?”

“I left her outside, just go, Daddy. Like I said, I have things here under control.”

To me the attribution tags seem to slow down the action and steal the flow from the event. It seems too stifled.

What do you think? Does all speech need to be introduced or qualified?