Speaker Attributes and Beats: They’re to Subtly Help the Reader

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A speaker attribute is a way a person says something, such as he said, asked, whispered, or yelled. A beat is an action connected to dialogue. It reminds readers people are talking, not solely their heads.

The main job of speaker attributes and beats is to let the reader know who’s speaking. Usually, they should not call attention to themselves. And a speaker attribute should be a valid way someone could speak.

After the examples below, see if you can revise the conversations to focus more on the content of the conversation than how something is said. Use words in the dialogue or character’s actions to show how the speaker feels.

Dialogue Between Talking Heads

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“Why’d you say that?”

“I was telling the truth.”

“What you said about me was far from the truth.”

“What did I say that was untrue?”

“You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend.”

“I saw you flirting with him.”

“You’re mean.”

“What about you?”

“I’m not mean.”

“Says you.”

Notice the conversation is like two heads are talking. Did you get lost as to who said which line by the end?

Overbearing or Impossible Speaker Attributes

 

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“Why’d you do that?” Meredith fumed.

“I was telling the truth.” Cal grated.

“What you said about me was far from the truth,” Meredith threw back.

“What did I say that was untrue?” Cal defended.

“You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend,” Meredith seethed.

“I saw you flirting with him.” Cal accused.

Fumed, grated, threw, defended, and seethed are not valid ways a person speaks. How does one fume or defend words out of their mouths?

In Cal’s last statement, his words show he accused Meredith of flirting. The author had no need to explain or tell that’s what Cal did.

Too Much He said, She said

 

“Why’d you do that?” she said.

“I was telling the truth,” he said.

“What you said about me was far from the truth,” she said.

“What did I say that was untrue?” he said.

“You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend,” she said.

“I saw you flirting with him,” he said.

An Improved Rewrite

 

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“Why’d you do that?” Meredith asked.

Cal stared at her. “I was telling the truth.”

“What you said about me was far from the truth, Cal.”

“What did I say that was untrue?”

She clamped her hands on her hips. “You know very well that I didn’t steal Mandi’s boyfriend.”

“I saw you flirting with him.” His gaze drilled hers. “Do you deny that?”

Use only speaker attributes and beats that improve dialogue for the reader. Click to tweet.

I invite you to share your rewrite in the comments.

 

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

Don’t Over Explain: Readers Get It the First Time

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Most authors have heard or read RUE, Resist the Urge to Explain.

In the example paragraph below, see if you can spot where the author has not resisted the urge to explain.

Passage With Unnecessary Explaining

Officer Pierce jumped the fence, the heel of his boot grazing the rail. The rail was higher than any man of his height could scale easily. Once he hit the ground, he regained his speed, churning his legs as fast as he could. “Stop, or I’ll shoot!” he yelled in a loud voice. The perp raced forward, bent on outrunning Officer Pierce. He didn’t look back to check how close Pierce was.

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Pierce ran faster. He tripped, fell, and rolled on the grass. His foot must have caught on a rock protruding from the ground. When he sprang to his feet, the perp was gone. Pierce searched the area, looking in all directions. No luck. He didn’t get a break. Discouraged and his head hanging over his chest, he trudged to his vehicle, the SUV he’d used in the pursuit.

Unnecessary Explaining

  1. Explaining the height of the rail slows the pace of the chase and is unnecessary.
  2. The author doesn’t need to tell how someone regains his speed. It’s usually making his legs move faster.
  3. The exclamation mark is used to let readers know someone is yelling, which means they are talking loudly.
  4. Most perps are bent on escaping their pursuers.
  5. Explaining that the perp didn’t look back to gauge how close Pierce was slows the pace of the chase.
  6. Explaining how Pierce could have tripped may be the author intruding to give a plausible reason the reader doesn’t care about. If it’s Pierce’s thoughts, it seems unlikely he’d be trying to figure out what tripped him, when all he cares about is catching the perp.
  7. When one searches an area, they usually look in all directions.
  8. No luck means Pierce didn’t get a break. One expression will suffice.
  9. His head hanging and his trudging show his discouragement.
  10. Readers would assume his vehicle is the car he used in pursuit.

An Improved Version of the Passage

image by Clker-Free-Vector-Images

Officer Pierce jumped the fence, the heel of his boot grazing the rail. Once he hit the ground, he regained his speed. “Stop, or I’ll shoot!” The perp raced forward.

Pierce ran faster. He tripped, fell, and rolled on the grass. When he sprang to his feet, the perp was gone. He searched the area. No luck. His head hanging over his chest, he trudged to his cruiser.

 

Try this exercise to spot an author’s unnecessary explaining. Click to tweet.

What bothers you most about authors explaining actions and dialogue?

 

Amazon Link

Amanda Larrowe’s lack of trust sabotages her relationships. The English teacher and award-winning author of middle-grade adventure books for boys has shut off communication with friends and family to meet her January 2 book deadline. Now, in the deepest snow accumulation Richmond, Virginia has experienced in years, Camden Lancaster moves in across the street. After ten years, her heart still smarts from the humiliating aftermath of their perfect high school Valentine’s Day date. He may have transformed into a handsome, amiable man, but his likeability doesn’t instill trust in Amanda’s heart. When Cam doesn’t recognize her on their first two encounters, she thinks it’s safe to be his fair-weather neighbor. Boy is she wrong.

End Paragraphs With a Meaningful Punch

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“Your goal is to entice your reader to read the next paragraph. The worst way for your reader to leave each paragraph is reading a vague word, such as his, it, with, there, or was. These words leave the reader with no gist of the paragraph’s meaning or how he should feel as he starts the next paragraph. A paragraph backloaded with an evocative word excites readers subconsciously to move forward in the story.” Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days by Zoe M. McCarthy (releasing in 2018)

See if you can revise and end the example paragraphs with a meaningful word.

Paragraphs With Weak Endings 

1. Jack was never home. Liza’s friends had their own lives. They couldn’t babysit her every day of the week. Jack needed to find another job, one in which he could be with her.

image by the fss

2. Graham entered Grandmother’s dark room. Why hadn’t Daisy opened the curtains this morning? He took several steps closer to the bed. Grandmother lay on her back with her hands folded over her chest. Her face looked gray. Oh heavens. Death had come for Grandmother, and she no longer was.

3. Mona spied Aunt Saundra’s emerald ring on the table. The diamonds surrounding the emerald sparkled in the sunlight shining through the window. If she scooped the ring into her purse, and only wore it in the city, no one would ever know she took it.

4. Cecelia abhorred gardening. Oh, she enjoyed the beauty of the flowerbeds and the arrangements of cut flowers in vases inside. But the sun drilling into her back, the sweat pouring from her body, and the blisters on her hands were too much to ask.

The Gist of the Paragraphs

Paragraph 1 is about Liza being left alone. Her leaves us dry.

Paragraph 2 is about discovering Grandmother’s death. Was means existing.

Paragraph 3 is about Mona’s stealing. We’re sent away with boring it.

Paragraph 4 is about Cecelia’s belief that gardening benefits aren’t worth the pains. Ask suggests a question.

Improved Backloaded Paragraphs

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1. Jack was never home. Liza’s friends had their own lives. They couldn’t babysit her every day of the week. Jack needed to find another job whose evening and weekend requirements never left her alone.

2. Graham entered Grandmother’s dark room. Why hadn’t Daisy opened the curtains this morning? He took several steps closer to the bed. Grandmother lay on her back with her hands folded over her chest. Her face looked gray. Oh heavens. Grandmother was dead.

3. Mona spied Aunt Saundra’s ring on the table. The diamonds surrounding the emerald sparkled in the sunlight shining through the window. If she scooped the ring into her purse and wore it only in the city, no one would ever know she was the thief.

4. Cecelia abhorred gardening. Oh, she enjoyed the beauty of the flowerbeds and the arrangements of cut flowers in vases inside. But she hated the sun drilling into her back, the sweat pouring from her body, and the blisters on her hands. The beauty wasn’t worth the suffering.

An exercise to end paragraphs with words that lure readers to the next paragraph. Click to tweet.

I invite you to include your ending words in the comments.