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

image by geralt

 

“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

 

image by b0red

“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.

 

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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.