Monday, August 29, 2011

Here's What I Learned About Attribution, He Said

I just had an epiphany about how I write. Turns out, I was writing dialogue backwards. It went something like this:
Luke said, “An attack?”
Mal said, “A warning.”
Book said, “Have they hailed us?”
Uhura said, “That’s the odd thing—there’s been nothing but radio silence.”
Book said, “I’m not a spacer, but that sounds strange.”

You see it? Said, said, said, said, said. But I think it wasn't that I was using the 'said's that was incorrect as much as where I used them. (More on this at the end.) I didn't know how to correctly handle basic dialogue tag attribution.

Attribution is how the writer tells you who said what. Mark Nichol writes:

Attribution is the convention in composition of identifying a speaker or writer when you include direct quotes (which should be enclosed in quotation marks) or paraphrases. An entire system of usage — a choreography, if you will — has developed around how to arrange quotations and paraphrases and their attributions. Here are the dance steps:

“The basic setup is to reproduce a single sentence, followed by an attribution,” he began. “Then, if the quotation consists of more than one sentence, follow the attribution with the rest of it.” If the quotation extends for more than one paragraph, do not close the first paragraph with an end quotation mark; this omission signals to the reader that the same person is being quoted in the next paragraph.

In that next paragraph, rinse and repeat.

With this in mind, let's look at that first example again with an eye on fiction Attribution:

“An attack?” Luke asked.
“A warning," Mal said.
“Have they hailed us?” Book asked.
Uhura touched the device in her ear. “That’s the odd thing—there’s been nothing but radio silence.”
"I’m not a spacer," Book said, "but that sounds strange.”

For more information click this article on how to use attribution tags to control the rhythym of fiction in dialogue.
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  1. Thanks to Katie for the tip-in with the awesome image. I giggle whenever I see it.

  2. Writing dialogue with multiple participants is tricky. Thanks for the tip, Phy!

    Hey, what is Castle doing in the StarWars pic??? :D

  3. Great post, Johne!

    @Linda: Before Castle, there was Firefly.

  4. Also (and this is tricky), that's a Star Trek pic with a Star Wars logo. The genre-busting is so meta my head almost exploded the first time I saw it, Firefly-as Star Trek-as Star Wars.

  5. Good thoughts here, Phy. And if you sprinkle in some action tags instead of attribution tags, it becomes even smoother.

  6. I love that picture!

    The post was useful too, but the picture is just full of awesomeness.

  7. This was a great refresher on attribution. Thanks!

    I laughed so hard at the pic I almost fell out of my chair. That's priceless.