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Wednesday, August 7, 2013

He Said, She Said The Nitty Gritty of Using Attributives

He Said, She Said
The Nitty Gritty of Using Attributives
Today let us discuss attributions, how we use them, how to use them right and how to avoid them like the plague.


the act of attributing; ascription.
something ascribed; an attribute.
vb  (usually foll by to )
to regard as belonging (to), produced (by), or resulting (from); ascribe (to): to attribute a painting to Picasso

a property, quality, or feature belonging to or representative of a person or thing
an object accepted as belonging to a particular office or position

a. an adjective or adjectival phrase

b. an attributive adjective
logic  the property, quality, or feature that is affirmed or denied concerning the subject of a proposition

An easier way to explain what an attribution is would be showing you.

“Do like you my new dress?” Peggy asked.

Here, ‘Peggy asked’ is the attribution. It is the phrase that represents ownership of the sentence, generally in dialect within a novel.

Dialog is probably one of the most complex issues in writing a novel. You want to type properly yet you also need it to sound as natural as possible for that specific character and still somehow be legible no matter what. It is a complex combination of knowing when to say cannot versus can’t, do not versus don’t, etcetera and so on. 

The way we write our dialect is more defining to our protagonist’s voices and who they are more than anything else in our books. It tells us a great deal of what type of person they really are. For example even a slight accent can paint a picture if written properly; inciting the imagination of our readers to build entire backgrounds of a character’s life no matter if we leave such a thing out altogether.

The beauty of a novel is the painted picture it creates inside of the readers mind. Some words we may be tempted to overuse in our books, trying to be clearer on precisely what is going on while trying to paint our stories. However, this is not always necessary.

Attributives should be held back for when clarifying who is speaking (when necessary) or the manner in which they are speaking, IE: Her voice trembled from fear, Seething anger lit fire to his every word. 
Describing the influx of voice is far more important than even stating who said it in many cases.

Based on the character, how things are said, their current mood, even the specific sentence as it pertains to the paragraph or situation is sometimes all the indicator we need as to who spoke. In this example you will be able to see why:

Bob and Caryl sat out on the deck, watching the sunset. “Bob, would you please pass me my hat?” Caryl asked.

If we know that it is just Bob and Caryl together, and Caryl uses Bob’s name when she speaks, then there is absolutely no reason we need to add on ‘Caryl said or  ‘she said/asked’  Everything has already been implied thoroughly to the reader.

Often times when the character speaking uses another character’s name and addresses them directly it improves your story flow better than he said, she said, she replied, commented, etcetera.  In every day speech we might not address people by name as often as we may do so in books, but by doing so it can allow you to cut down your attributives and get right to the story. Seeing a redundant use of attributives, (he said / she said) may actually pull your readers out of the story more than you realize or want them to be. When they have to read things like that over and over again, it is almost like a subconscious reminder that we’re reading a book, not witnessing (Or in some ideal cases, being a part of) a story.

This is not saying every sentence you write should address by name or that you should never use an attribution. The goal is to find a happy medium that best suits your novel and sounds the most natural for the story while maintaining fluid story flow.

More often than we may realize in our dialect, there are generally only two people speaking together. Sometimes, however, there is a group of people discussing one topic or a room full of people carrying multiple conversations. This is a time when attributions will be greatly needed in one form or another. One thing that may really help your story flow properly might be adding subconscious attributions; a sentence that indicates who spoke without directly saying so.

Here, actions are used by the person speaking. In the book itself this method indicates who is the focus of the paragraph and thus who is speaking...

(Character 1, aka Paul, is speaking) “Uh huh. Well anyways, I got us some breakfast.” He popped the can open, downing half of his in one gulp while I just stared at mine.

(Character 2, aka Lianna, is speaking) My brow wrinkled curiously. “How’d you get over here so quickly?” While looking over at the food on the counter, I opened the can.

(Character 1 is speaking) “Eh, I already had the food. ‘Sides, you gotta eat something other than bad Chinese and Riads once in a while.” Paul smiled, winking at me.

I hope this article has helped you understand attributions and facilitated in building your strength as a writer.

Happy writing!

Jacquelynn Gagne, Editor in Chief of Ambrosia Arts

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