Today’s topic from the tenth chapter of The Irresistible Novel by Jeff Gerke is one that goes undetected by many readers. In this chapter Gerke takes a look at the arguments for and against the use of speech attributions.
“Speech attributions are the ‘he said’ parts of a dialogue scene.” (Gerke 72)
Keep in mind that the purpose of this book is not to lay down a list of writing rules. Instead, Gerke is challenging his readers to take a closer look at their own writing in order to create a solid writing voice. Each chapter provides an in-depth description about a particular idea from fiction and explains why some favor or oppose that particular thing. This week the argument is, “You should avoid using said and asked too much and should instead find alternatives as often as possible.” (Gerke 72)
When it comes to the use of common speech attributions there are two camps. There are those who believe that you should absolutely avoid repeating the same words over and over again in your story. Others believe that the average reader does not detect the continual use of the common attributions and they should be kept simple to avoid impeding on the story. The middle ground between these two camps would say that it is okay to occasionally use words like said or asked, but whenever possible a writer should try to shake things up by either using other attributions or beats. The danger of using other attributions is that if you try too hard to avoid the common terms you run the risk of distracting your reader. A better alternative would be the use of beats.
A beat is an easy replacement for a speech attribution for a few reasons:
- A beat replaces a speech attribution while more or less performing the same function.
- A beat ties the reader to the setting.
- A beat is a primary tool for managing rhythm and pace of a dialogue scene.
Here is an example of a beat from the book:
“That’s terrific!” Julia sat on the ottoman. “When do you start?”
Not only does the beat highlighted above convey a natural pause in the speech, but it also ties the speaker to the setting. Beats make it clear who is speaking and how they do so. It becomes easier to hear Julia’s tone as we see where she is as opposed to being left to guess with the use of an unoriginal or overly painted speech attribution.
My Current Project…
I will be honest with you: I don’t see a problem with using the words said and asked. I do think that these words can easily be overdone, but there is an appropriate time and place to use them in writing.
Below is a short dialogue scene that happens about 3/4 of the way through my book. Michael has just experienced a tragedy and his intern (and crush) shows up at his front door. I blurred out some things that give away major plot points. Let me know what you think about the pacing of this scene based on the speech attributions and beats.
The next morning the doorbell to the Berry home brought life back into the house. Each member of the family stirred from their spot in the living room. Raymond threw back a blanket that had kept him warm overnight and swung his legs toward the floor. His bare toes shuddered at the coolness of the hardwood beneath them. Michael and the kids all began to untangle on the recliner. Raymond ran a hand through his hair as he placed his opposite hand on the door handle.
“Hello, can I help you?” He asked the apparent stranger on the front porch.
“Yes, I was wondering if Mr. Walker was in?” Immediately Michael stood up. His heart raced at the recognition of the voice on the other side of the door. He straightened his shirt and brushed his hair with his fingertips. Evelyn looked up at him and smiled. She had seen enough movies to know that the woman at the door was someone her older brother fancied.
“Come in.” Raymond spoke to the young woman. And as her black heels touched the wood floor inside the entryway her small voice could be heard.
Michael made his way over to the entryway. Rebekah quickly made her way across the entry and threw her arms around him.
“I’m so sorry, Mr. Walker.” Rebekah said with tears on the brim of each eye.
“Thank you, Rebekah.” Michael said with gratitude and a blushing face.
Raymond ushered the younger siblings out of the entry and toward the kitchen to fix breakfast. Michael was appreciative of the privacy.
“What are you doing here?” Michael questioned his intern.
“I knew it wasn’t like you to take a week off. So I went to Galik and asked him where you had gone. Don’t be mad, because I know he probably broke a HIPPA law or something, but he told me about—-. I figured out how to find you. Why didn’t you tell me ——?” Rebekah spoke quickly as though she had rehearsed this dialogue on her journey.
“I didn’t know for very long.” Michael admitted.
“You should have told me.” Rebekah sounded hurt.
“I didn’t want to trouble you.” Michael sounded jaded in his response.
“Well, I’m troubled now. I don’t like that you didn’t tell me.”
“I’m sorry.” He apologized.
“Well, that’s it. I traveled all this way on a weekend to hear you say that.” She flirted.
“Guess I’ll see you next week then.” Michael was unsure of himself. Conversation and flirtation were a foreign language to him.
“Invite me on a walk? This end of town is so charming.” She smiled again showing off her beautifully straight teeth.
“Sure, do you mind if I change my clothes really quick?” He asked.
“Not at all.” Michael bounded up the staircase toward his old bedroom. He felt like he was in high school again. Jitters filled his stomach as he raced to change and brush his teeth. The last thing he wanted to do was keep the beautiful girl downstairs waiting.