Ever try to write a book without speaker attributions?
I have, and it’s a great exercise in conciseness.
The book I’m speaking of is Rendezvous Buzzard Point, a thriller I began about a young man whose beloved wife is murdered.
In an effort to avenge Linda’s death, Alan finds himself embroiled in a nasty plot to destroy Washington, D.C. by a Colombian drug cartel named Flamingo, armed and supported by the government of Iran.
Here is a short excerpt, hopefully showing that stories can be written without speaker attributions.
Please take a read and tell me what you think?
The downtown traffic passed in vague flashes as Alan recalled his and Linda’s trip into the Colombian rainforest. Soon he noticed nothing of the grind of urban life, seeing instead the thick reach of trees, wide bushes and small plants covering the jungle floor.
“Can you believe we’re actually here, Alan?”
Alan took Linda’s hand and allowed her to lead him further into the dense foliage. “Hard to believe, but here we are.”
“It’s different than the wilderness in the Rocky Mountains. It’s denser and more humid … the air is like breathing water.”
Alan winced and grasped Linda’s arm. “Hope we’re prepared.”
Linda nodded assurance. “After all, what’s worse than being torn apart by a cougar or a huge brown bear?”
“Being crushed by a green anaconda?”
Linda laughed. “Then don’t run around in the swamp unclothed, dear heart.”
“How can I avoid it? When I imagine you naked, I lose all control.”
Linda caressed Alan’s hand. “With all this around us, you think about sex?”
Why not? Sex is what made all this possible.”
Linda shook her head. “Okay, let’s hike in further and make camp. Then we’ll see what happens inside our nifty little tent.”
In this excerpt, Alan has met a homeless jazz musician who used to deal cocaine for Flamingo.
Alan couldn’t contain his fascination. “Hey, Bop, you were sure grooving back there and I enjoyed it. Real cool.” At once, Alan felt remorse about his weak effort at hipster lingo and looked away, wishing he had spoken less specious.
“Sorry, man, we was just strolling past the capitol and I couldn’t help but remember when I was playing solo tenor in Jimmy Tate Wilson’s big band. We setup at the bottom of the steps. Yeah, it was a luscious day like today. Sun high and warm. Sweet breeze and all … and Jimmy called a tune composed by Neal Hefti named Cute. Ever hear of it?”
“Can’t say that I have, Bop.”
“Well, it’s a jazz standard of the first order. Medium swing tempo with great ensemble lines played around fine brushwork from our drummer. Cool, it was, brother. One of my favorite tunes to solo over.”
Alan smiled at Bop’s rising passion. “Still love music, don’t you.”
Bop scrunched his face and tightened his lips. “Times it was so beautiful it made me cry inside. Bad times, they was. Really bad.”
“Yeah, like bad as in bad ass. You know, screaming high moments that made all the lonely hours worth it.”
Alan thought for a moment. “Guess I can relate … but maybe not.”
“Like I said back in the park, us jazz musicians is a bunch of compulsive types. Almost takes that to play your ass off, you know. You ever spend a couple hundred thousand hours of your life refining something, man?”
“Not that I recall. Most dedication I ever mustered was graduating from college and starting my business. Can’t see how that could be the same.”
“I wouldn’t know. Never done that. But with them glorious highs there was all them brutal lows. Playing jazz is like sailing a ship in a storm, one moment you’re up top a smasher wave, the next you’re surrounded by walls of hell–bent fury.”
“Think you can harness that kind of drive again?”
The point is that speaker attributes are avoidable, and why not? They need space, thought, and serve no purpose beyond telling the reader who spoke.
When I started to write, I attributed too often, never realizing how clumsy it was.
Further, I used every kind of attribute I could think of — demanded, commanded, cried, wailed, sang, spat, snipped, quipped, among many. After some research, I discovered that many successful writers use nothing more than “said” and “asked”.
The reason is that these two are quick, easy to understand, and discreet, stealing little from the pace of the story.
It follows that fewer attributions might work better, even to the point of dropping them. Easy enough to try, so I gave it a go.
I actually liked it, because if done well (and I’m improving) my story snapped into hyperdrive and sped between the stars.
Then every word used was dedicated to narrative, dialogue and action, with no interruptions.
I thought that was really neat, so I decided to commit to it.
Please understand that I’m not suggesting speaker attributes are passé. They still predominate in the market and likely always will. But once in a while a story avoids them, and if done well, the reader never misses them, often reflecting later how snappy and fast the story read.
Just a suggestion you might try to clarify your writing further.
Your opinion on this topic fascinates me. If you feel moved, please take a moment and comment.