Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Rules, Rules, Rules -- Speaker Attributes III


To finish up our discussion on this topic, I want to use a passage from Amber Morn as an example of the different ways I mentioned for handling SAs. To review those:

1. Add nothing--let the dialogue speak for itself.
2. Add a beat--action, descriptive or thought.
3. Add an SA.

The passage is color-coded per the above.

The challenge in this scene was to keep the argument popping between the three hostage takers, while not losing touch with Bailey (a hostage), whose POV we're in. SAs are always more challenging to avoid when you've got more than two people talking. But if it's a high action scene, you don't want extra words slowing it down. So how to find the balance?
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Brad turned a hard look on his father. “Maybe I don’t like your plans now that I’m here. We got all these people—”

“So what you want to do?” Kent kept his weapon and eyes on the hostages, his words thrown at his son. “We’ve been here forty-five minutes. You want to kill somebody every half hour?”

“Why not, we got enough of ’em.”

“Fine,” Kent spat. “At that rate we run out of people in six and a half hours. Then what?”

“You got a better idea?” Brad’s knuckles whitened against his weapon. Bailey’s blood ran cold. She pressed back in her chair, prayers streaming through her head. This wasn’t going to work. These men were too crazy, and with all their ammunition …

“Yeah, I got a better idea!” Kent’s shout bounced against the walls. He grasped his gun in his right hand, waving it for effect. “We keep with the plan. They’ll contact us soon.”

“What if they don’t, though?” Mitch threw out. “We never thought it would take them this long.”

Kent sliced the air with his left hand. “Then we start shooting, okay? Tell you what, Brad, I’ll let you take the first one, since apparently that’s what you came for.”

Brad’s features twisted. “I came for T.J., and you know it.”

“Then start acting like it.”

“Yeah, okay, fine.” Mitch wagged his head side to side. “We wait a little longer.”

Brad threw him a look. “Now you got patience all of a sudden.”

“Cork it, Brad, you’re not even supposed to be here.”

“I didn’t see you fighting that this morning.”

“Yeah, like you—”

Kent cursed and kicked a chair with all his might. It scudded across the floor and slammed into the windowsill. Gasps rose from the hostages. “Both of you shut your traps!” His wide nostrils flared. “I swear, you don’t stop arguing right now I’ll put you both outside and do this myself.”
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Yikes. Looking at this scene now I want to start editing it again. Too late.

We've been on SAs for three days now, longer than I expected. I hope this discussion has given you some ideas regarding how to handle them in your own writing, and what alternatives you might use. Most of all, I hope the discussion has made you more aware of SAs so when you use them, it will be with purpose.

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Read Part 7


2 comments:

Lianne said...

Great example. That's very helpful, especially the color coding. And it makes sense. I don't write too many highly suspenseful scenes, but this was a helpful example even for less suspenseful scenes where more than two characters are talking.

Thanks, Brandilyn. :)

Timothy Fish said...

I prefer the word “said,” rather than “spat” and “threw out,” for the added SAs. The problem I see is that, after growing accustomed to action beats following dialog, the reader may not notice the difference between “Fine,” Kent spat. and ”Fine!” Kent spat.. One reader may see frustration while another may see chewing tobacco on the floor.


We are able to observer the “committee” making decisions and move back to see Bailey and the bystanders, making this a relatively low intensity scene, so SAs don’t slow it that much. In a high intensity scene, such as one where one villain has a gun to Bailey’s head and another opposing that action, the camera would have a much tighter focus. We would hear only the two villains, making the SAs unnecessary because it is clear which character would say what. Moving in tighter to show the conflict between the gun and Bailey who is praying that it won’t fire, would add to the tension and neither SAs nor dialogue would be required.