My drug of choice is writing––writing, art, reading, inspiration, books, creativity, process, craft, blogging, grammar, linguistics, and did I mention writing?

Friday, June 8, 2018

Leela Bruce Fights ALL the Dialogue Attribution Advice

Every once in a while a martial artist like me has to pull a Yojimbo. Because both sides of some particular form of advice are just asking for it.

I came into the Dialogue Attribution Town, and found there were two factions warring for everything from style guide attention to the way children were taught. Passions ran hot and almost no one in town hadn't sworn allegiance to one faction or the other.

At first I joined up with the Saids. They seemed a simple people, not prone to ostentation and flashy displays. They almost blended into the background, they were sometimes so subtle it was difficult even to notice them. I assisted them in their struggles against the bombastic Neversaids, a group that couldn't utter a word without making a fucking production out of it, drawing attention to their every remark. Emboldened by my presence, they dealt a critical blow to the Neversaids, and it seemed they might be about to win the ongoing struggle for the town.

However, soon after that fateful battle, I left the Saids and joined the Neversaids. The Saids were simple and unobtrusive, but they were also passionless and boring, and after a while their inability to convey the slightest emotional resonance when they spoke began to grate. Soon their attempts to be subtle and unnoticed became the very thing that made them stand out. At least I knew where the Neversaids stood and what their emotional state was. The Neversaids, happy to have me, delivered a terrible attack to the Saids.

Then with both groups weakened, I tipped my hand. I wasn't with either of them. I was here to defeat them both. They both were ridiculous and prescriptive and annoying. In a climactic battle in the lightning flecked rain, I defeated the leaders of both, dealing the final strike to the leader of the Saids.

"We had a deal," he said. "Why?"

"Because you're bad advice," I explained. "Maybe not as bad as the Neversaids, but still bad. And I'm really here for the people you're trying to control."

"This is a goddamned fucking travesty!" he said.

"See what I mean," I pointed out.

When it was all over, I stood before the citizens of the city who didn't quite know how to handle the new freedom they'd been given. I spoke:

"The Saids were right. You can't "gush," "sputter," and "ejaculate" every time someone is speaking. It's comical. It's distracting. It'll pull a reader right out of a moment. Using 'said' tends to blend in with the dialogue itself, and most readers glance over it without even fully registering it.

"But the Saids were not free of sin. The Neversaids were right as well. After a while you want something more than said. You want a snip or a sneer or a scoff. Not everyone speaks in the same modulation with everything they say, and the worst thing they would do is add a clunky adverb like 'said condescendingly' instead of just sneering. We have emotion, and that is what words are made to convey.

"You should be a Said most of the time. Go through the world and let your words draw attention to themselves, not their attribution tag draw attention to HOW they are spoken. But every once in a while, you've got to mix it up. You have to break that uniformity with variety in the same way you would any motif within art. You need to throw a word in there that shows a line isn't just being 'said.' And sometimes you might even describe action in a separate sentence for variety. Humans do not just...'SAY' everything. Neither of these factions was right. Both tried to control you. But now it is time for you to learn...moderation. Now it is time for all of you....to control yourselves."

And then I turned and left the town, never to return. I walked into the setting sun amidst a flurry of late summer abscission by the local flora. For reasons that will defy explanation, someone in the town put Shadow's Theme (from Final Fantasy 3) on the town's PA as I walked away forever.


  1. I love that you included Shadows them.

  2. That has to be the best Ennio Morricone theme Nobuo Uematsu ever wrote.