Tension and Authority Day 5 - Attribution

In Consider This, attribution is actually handled in Texture, but for our purposes I think it fits well with tension and authority. At it’s most basic, it is stating who said something.

Here is a very basic example, it is the first words of the song
Taking Back Sunday - You’re So Last Summer

She said, “Don’t let it go to your head
Boys like you are a dime a dozen”
She said, “You’re a touch overrated
You’re a lush, and I hate it”

There is no question of who said the direct quote. It was “she”.

Another simple form is from The Smiths - Cemetry Gates in the second verse

You say : “'Ere thrice the sun done salutation to the dawn”
And you claim these words as your own

Those are simple, quick attribution for direct quotes. Using this kind of attribution is useful, but also not very interesting. It creates a pause in the listener’s mind. It can be useful for breaking tension. However, there is more we can do for attribution.

We can use physical action as a form of attribution. Here is the example from the book:
“Coffee?” With her back to the room, she poured cups full and dropped cyanide in Ellen’s. “I think you’ll like this new French roast.”
Here, the actions attribute the words to the “she” acting as a server/hostess.

This type is harder for me to think of examples in songs. Most songs that portray actions will use clarifying words also, but here is an example:
Pure action attribution:
Tom Waits - Nighthawks Postcards

But you know, over at Chubb’s Pool and Snooker
Well, it was a nickel after two, yeah, it was a nickel after two
And in the cobalt steel blue dream smoke
Why, it was the radio that groaned out the hit parade
And the chalk squeaked and the floorboards creaked
And an Olympia sign winked through a torn yellow shade
Old Jack Chance himself leaning up against a Wurlitzer
Man, he was eyeballing out a five-ball combination shot
“Impossible you say? Hard to believe?
Perhaps out of the realm of possibility?

Here, we see that Jack Chance is chalking his cue at a poolhall, eyeing a hard shot then he speaks, kind of bragging. Attribution without vocalization verb.

Also, consider gestures we all know (according to our culture). In the US, we have things like raising the middle finger suggests anger. Looping your thumb and index finger, leaving the other three fingers raised indicates “ok”. Straightening then bending your index finger means “come here”. A finger over closed lips (often accompanied by “shhh” means to be quiet. Using a index finger to cross your throat is a threat, kind of like “you are dead”. An open palm smacking against the forehead usually means “I forgot” or “whoops”. An open mouth with open hands placed on the cheeks often indicates surprise".

Working with combining the two, we can use full and clear attribution to enhance our lyrics. A good example is Brand New - Sic Transit Gloria

A victim, still lying in bed, completely motionless
A hand moves in the dark to a zipper
Hear a boy bracing tight against sheets
Barely whisper, “This is so messed up”

Here, the actions really tell us a lot. And we don’t just get a “he said”, we get all the action, the fear, and then the “barely whisper”. Consider how we can use different verbs rather than “said” or “asked”.

As it relates to authority, consider when to use a direct quote vs an indirect quote. An indirect quote tends to hold less authority for the speaker. It is painted by the mindset of the narrator. A direct quote heightens the speaker’s authority. Many of the above examples are direct quotes. Here is an example of an indirect quote surrounded by action:
Jawbreaker - Chesterfield King

Needed some time to think it out
7-Eleven parkin’ lot, a toothless woman turned and stopped
Gave her a dime and a Chesterfield
She leaned down and kissed my cheek
I was scared, but it felt sweet, felt so sweet
She asked me if I had a name
Told her I was glued up on some chick
We sat and smoked against the wall
Drank a beer, felt the chill of fall, of fall

Here, the indirect quote shows the uneasiness of the narrator with the conversation (it comes with the context of the full song). Earlier in the song, we get a direct quote from his “thoughts” to contrast.

One other thing to note: When describing actions of the speaker, try to avoid adverbs. Adverbs are shortcuts and quickly become “telling” rather than “showing”. Think about something like this:
Scrooge smirked greedily “This money is mine!”.
Scrooge stroked the coin held in his left hand, a smile that might as well be a snarl flashed “This money is mine!”.

That is not a great example, it is just something to show the difference. We can also consider different verbs so that adverbs become unnecessary. Using “she quipped” in lieu of “she said sarcastically” or something like that.

For this exercise, try your hand at the various types of attribution. Come up with the simple form (he said, she asked), pure action form, gesture form (think of a common gesture in your culture and what it means), and an indirect form. They do not have to be related to one another. It is just an exercise to get us thinking of how we can use attribution effectively.

“Quick,” she said
"Slide under the bed.
“The monster’s in the closet
I’m too ashamed to lock it”
I mumbled with slight warning,
“Will I be safe here until morning?”.

Pure Action
Her hands grasping the blanket
Pulled it up tight with fake-closed eyes
“I’m so tired, dad, I’ll see you after coffee”
She inhaled like the first time
With a mom, doctor, and bright lights
When the door latched to the frame

Emerging from the floor
Her finger over pursed lips
“you’ll have to keep quiet”
And beckoned me with clumsy fingers

I inquired as to her professional form
Had she done this many times before
She stared with bedroom eyes and
Whispered something about what’s in store

NOTE: The first one: since we can think of direct attribution as a pause, I liked the contrast of putting it after the word “quick”. The pure action, I am ascribing the words to “her” lying in bed speaking to her father standing at the door. The gesture is the US gesture for “be quiet” (a finger over pursed lips) and the “come hither beckon” of curling the index finger. The indirect one, I thought that using it might portray a sense of nervousness on “his” part. He is not quoting the conversation, but kind of shyly paraphrasing what it was about.

Although we don’t have to tie them together in this exercise, I tried in order to get my mind into a scene.