Attributions–In or Out?

A student confesses that she’s miffed at her writing critique group. Just when she thinks she’s mastered dialogue’s only-use-said-as-attribution-rule, here comes a new wave. Someone in the group came home from a writers conference and announced that even a simple attribution in dialogue is now taboo. Instead, a “beat” of action or narrative is preferred by writers in-the-know. The student wants my opinion. OK.
Many times that action/narrative beat is an easy, simple way to keep your reader grounded in the scene. But like every writing rule, it’s a malleable guideline. One thing almost all writing gurus agree on is that good writers vary their prose. Use “said” if you want to. But do remember that a scene’s surroundings begin to recede quickly for the reader. Action/narrative beats remind the reader where, when and how come we are in a particular scene.
Writing Tip for Today: Go through a scene you wrote that contains a lot of simple attributions like, “he said.” Vary the dialogue by adding in sentences of action or narration to indicate what the character is doing, thinking and feeling. EX: John straightened the painting on the wall. “I can’t stand to see a crooked frame.” He glared at Joan. “You get it?”

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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