Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Just Don't Let it Become a Sort of Crutch For You

And what's wrong with crutches, if you happen to need one?

On the whole, though, I've always thought that canes were classier. And since my ankle has been nigh unto useless for weight-bearing purposes this last week--especially for going up or down stairs--I decided perhaps I needed a cane for a week or two. I was asking myself where one would go to find such an article when I realized that we had one laying around the house.

Some years back, when I was doing a prolonged stint of work in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, I bought a few carvings. I was particularly taken with the crocodile-headed cane shown to the left, which has been laying around our various living rooms ever since I brought it back.

Now, I'm not sure if the craftsman who originally carved this intended it to be used, or if it was a work of art pure and simple. It certainly is nicely detailed: cowrie-shell eyes, carefully articulated scales down the reptilian back...I'm especially fond of the way the tail reunites by wrapping around the cane, making the cane asymmetric in all three axes of rotation.

To those who question the practical value of art, I can only say that you never know when you might need some art to lean on.

That said, I promise to stop dwelling on orthopedic matters on this blog and get back to something more relevant. But that's for later in the week; right now I need to go do some physical therapy.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Pain in Sprain Falls Mainly Down My Leg

Now this is just plain odd.

Last Saturday we went to see the band Sparks play up at UCLA's Royce Hall. (For those who care, they performed the entirety of their classic album Kimono My House as well as their most recent release, Exotic Creatures of the Deep. Plus a thirty-minute encore that ended with I'm a Suburban Homeboy.)

Now, we did a lot of wandering around in the afternoon before the show--walked perhaps seven or eight miles up and down the Hills of Beverly and the staircases of UCLA--but we both felt fine when we went to bed.

The next morning I woke up with my right foot so sore it hurt to walk. The morning after that, I couldn't walk at all, only hop and hobble along on my left foot; my right ached so severely I could barely think. An x-ray showed I had sprained my ankle rather badly--or sprained it rather well, all depending on how you look at it.

So now I'm in a splint and limping from place to place.

It's not the pain I mind so much, or even the inconvenience, as the fact that I still don't know how this happened. I don't recall twisting my ankle or doing anything unusual. How can you go to sleep and wake up with a sprain? Am I sleepwalking? Sleep-breakdancing? Is this one of those things where events in your dreams are affecting reality, as when the giant hawk grabs you with its talons in the dream, and you wake up with scratches?

As it happens, I'm reading Jonathan Carroll's latest novel (The Ghost in Love). He's not the guy to be reading if you're worried about the boundaries of reality getting blurred.

But there's probably nothing so interesting involved. I'm probably just a spazz.

Friday, February 13, 2009

"Business," Attribution, and the Choreography of Gaze

A while back, some of Emma Darwin's musings impelled me to write a post about thinker attributions. Emma has since added a comment on that post, and one of her points has got me thinking (an action I resist to the utmost under normal circumstances):

I'm interested in your riff of my post, since it originated in my thinking not about the attributions at all, but about what I rather pretentiously call the choreography of gaze.

I rather like "the choreography of gaze" as a term. Emma doesn't view it primarily as attribution, though when mixed with POV character observations it performs that role. I think these sorts of descriptions play three simultaneous roles: 1) cement us more firmly into POV (which amounts to attribution); 2) make the scene more vivid; and, 3) describe action and provide stage direction.

The eye of the character is one of the most powerful tools for this, but any of the senses can be employed this way (She smelled stale tobacco on his coat when he stepped closer). Sight is arguably the most objective of our senses. Smell and touch in particular are quite intimate and subjective, and don't have much range; it's possible to imagine someone casting the consciousness of a character around a scene through smell, but it would be an odd approach--probably something you'd use if the character were locked in a darkened room (or if you were rewriting Patrick Susskind's Perfume).

All that by way of digression, however. What I was really thinking about is another one of those terminological gaps we have in the craft of writing. "She said" is a dialogue tag; "she thought" is a thinker attribution. But what do we call indirect attributions?

Hunh? Indirect attributions? If I had better terms, I'd use 'em, but an example makes it clear. You can nail down who is talking through a dialogue tag (direct attribution):

"Sure, he brought the burritos," Paul said. "But that was two hours ago."

or you can do the same thing like this:

"Sure, he brought the burritos." Paul scratched his head. "But that was two hours ago."

In the second case, we know Paul is speaking, though there is no specific speaker attribution, just action that points to the speaker. From a craft point of view, what's that called?

The only short term I've ever heard for it is "business," jargon from the stage for general fiddling about (lighting cigarettes, rearranging things on the desktop, dragging back one's hair with a free hand). The word has a somewhat dismissive tone to it, and it's sometimes justified; there's an awful lot of scratching, stretching, sniffing, and smoking that goes on simply because someone has tired of writing "Paul said."

In the example above, Paul could have done any number of things that would do little more than avoid another "said." But suppose we write:

"Sure, he brought the burritos." Paul sucked at a bleeding fingertip and spat out a fragment of nail. "But that was two hours ago."

Now, I'm not sure what the context of the preceding paragraph is, since I just now made it up and have no idea what is going on or where we are; but I'm pretty sure it accomplishes more than standing in for a dialogue tag. If I wrote such a thing in a novel, I'd be saying something about Paul's character, making the scene a little more vivid, and, en passant, also letting the reader know it is Paul speaking.

Is there a term for this? Apart, that is, from the somewhat-perjorative "business" (which most people don't seem to recognize)? I wish there were a simple word or phrase, because I'm often tempted to tell writers who have asked me to read their manuscripts that, "Instead of a dialogue tag, this would be a perfect place to insert..." Insert what, exactly? "...one of those sequences of actions that attributes the dialogue while simultaneously achieving other goals of the scene"? I guess we could call it 'indirect speaker attribution', but we're writers--can we come up with pithier jargon than that?

Whatever we call this sort of dialogue-attribution-by-action, it is a simpler matter than the indirect thinker attributions of the 'choreography of gaze" Emma was discussing. A dialogue tag is nothing more than a fingerpost to a speaker--though, as shown above, when the attribution is done indirectly it can in principle do a great deal more. An indirect thinker attribution is inherently more nuanced. I can't do better than to quote the example from her original post:

So often 'he looked' 'she thought' 'they wondered' can go, and be replaced by a straight statement of what they're seeing, thinking, wondering. But if you want to make the reader conscious of the seer's/thinker's/looker's consciousness, then it helps if you focus the reader on that consciousness operating. It seems to me that this:

I found a comfortable chair, and he poured the drinks and then turned away towards the window. Was that all he was going to do? Wasn't he going to say anything?

has a subtly different effect from this:

I looked for a comfortable chair and sat down, and watched as he poured the drinks and then turned away to stare out of the window. I stared at his back view. Was that all he was going to do? Wasn't he going to say anything?

It's one of those incredibly important subtleties which are crushed when a bad teacher of writing peddles a rule like always cutting out the apparently surplus-to-requirements 'looks'.

Those gazes are a form of "business." In dialogue we might be able to infer without any doubt who is speaking, but still wish to add business/action to enrich the scene. Emma's example is even more unambiguous than most, as it is being told in first person; there is never any doubt whose thoughts or observations are being presented.

In her first example, we are essentially being given reportage followed by unmediated thoughts. In the second case, we are being given an additional dimension, a layer of self-awareness, where the narrator knows she is observing, and reports on how she goes about it.

The first example is faster and more minimalist. The second is richer, more anchored in consciousness, and increases our identification with the narrator.

Which is better? That depends on the totality of the scene. The first example moves us along faster to arrive at the two questions in the narrator's mind; it is economical and suspenseful. The paragrpah exists mainly to demand we leap to the next paragraph and get some answers.

The second example slows us down, recalibrates us, makes us hesitate in a longer moment of the narrator's self-consciousness. This gives it a feeling of less urgency, but greater portentousness; it anchors us in the moment of uncertainty, and creates a tiny instance of what some writers call a "suspense pocket."

Either one might be the right choice depending on the author's intent, but Emma is dead right when she says the effect is different.

I still don't have better names for this than "business," though. In one case, speaker business, in the other, thinker business. I'd love to be able to call these attributing fingerposts something else. Anybody got a name for these devices?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

When Critical Response to Your Work Varies

By the time you read this, the movie-review site Rotten Tomatoes may have fixed the little problem on this review page, but it was a mind-bender when I found it.

The page is purportedly reviewing a documentary called Eleven Minutes, about a fashion designer. The blurb on the page begins:

It's been two long years since the sharp-witted Jay McCarroll was dubbed "the next great American designer" on season one of reality television's Project Runway, and he's anxious to finally show his first line of clothing. The feature documentary, Eleven Minutes, chronicles his year-long journey designing and preparing his first independent runway show for New York's Fashion Week in Bryant Park...

So far so good. Hop down to the first review and you read:

Some would call the rotund designer charismatic, but I say that this documentary should have gone on only as long as its title.

Ha ha, snippy review. The next one, however, seems more than a little odd:

This is not a feel-good movie by any stretch, but it gets amazing marks on almost every front and really needs to be seen.

Oh? A disturbing movie about a fashion designer, which "really needs to be seen"? Intriguing. And even more intriguing when you read the next mini-review:

A claustrophobic dramatic reconstruction of a 22-hour shooting spree in the sleepy coastal town of Aramoana, New Zealand, that left 13 people dead.

Damn, those Kiwis take their fashion shows seriously. And the reviews keep on a-comin':

The massacre still touches a raw nerve in New Zealand but, filming at a neighbouring town and informed by survivors’ accounts, Sarkies manages both a sensitive and excruciatingly taut docu-thriller that’s refreshing for the genuine weight of its tragedy.

A haunting, uplifting and never-exploitative portrayal of a terrifying real-life tragedy.

Ohhhhh-kay. A bit of research suggests that reviews of a docudrama called Out of the Blue are overwriting almost all the reviews of Eleven Minutes. This interpretation makes sense until we hit the following:

A Hollywood-friendly version of these tragic events, with the star water polo player Karcsi (Ivan Fenyo) forced to choose between possible Olympic glory and his loyalty to student revolutionary girlfriend Viki (Kata Dobo).

Water polo? Karcsi? Student-revolutionary girlfriend Viki? I suppose Aramoana, New Zealand, might have water-polo stars and revolutionary girlfriends, and that they might be swept up in a shooting spree--though I'm having trouble imagining how this relates to the Olympics.

More research shows that reviews of Children of Glory, a movie about "two brutally competitive water polo matches between the USSR and Hungary" (no, I am not making this up) just before the 1956 uprising are now being pasted atop where reviews of our Project Runway darling ought to be.

One of the problems with snippets of reviews is that some praise can be pretty damned generic. Riveting or fascinating or absorbing...hey, who wouldn't believe those words might crop up in respect to one's own work?

Imagine this sort of review mashup happening to reviews of your novel. First you read:

Brilliant and poignant...clarity of insight and crystal-bright prose...[1]

which seems a bit surprising for your noir crime novel, but, hey, it's good to see your genius being recognized. Next you find:

...imagination, humanity, and gleeful appreciation of the absurd--but the book's basis in rock-hard, tragic fact gives it a unique poignancy.[2]

It does? Ummm, what basis in rock-hard fact? By the time you get to:

This volume leaves the reader with an understanding of the hard-won military dynamics of the surge and the professionalism and competence of the generals who designed and executed it. [3]


As always, the emphasis is on tasty food that anyone can prepare—and the book's best sections are devoted to simple fare such as sandwiches and pasta...brings new life to staples like grilled cheese, with his Double-Decker Cheddar Cheese Sandwich with Pickled Onions and Potato Chips. [4]

you are pretty sure something has gone wrong in the critical assessments of your novel. This could have an upside and a downside. Someone will rush out and buy it to appreciate (at last!) your "crystal-bright prose," but somebody else will be really ticked off when they can't find the recipe for your Double-Decker Cheddar Cheese Sandwich with Pickled Onions and Potato Chips.

The internet simply burgeons with possibilities, doesn't it?

[1] Review of Updike's Rabbit, Run
[2] Review of Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five
[3] Review of Thomas Rick's The Gamble
[4] Review of Jamie Oliver's Jamie's Dinners

Saturday, February 7, 2009

My Favorite Titles of Books on Writing

Howzat for a frail topic? Not my favorite books. Nope. My favorite titles. Weak, dude.

Nonetheless, I have some real gems:

How to Write While You Sleep by Elizabeth Irvin Ross. To tell the truth, I haven’t read this, only glanced through it. I think it’s about programming your subconscious mind. I found it at the Book Baron closeout sale, and for fifty cents a title like that was irresistible. If she could instead teach us How to Earn a Living While You Sleep, we could write while we're awake, which seems like the real solution to our problems.

What Will Have Happened by Robert Champigny. The is a somewhat professorial discussion of the mystery genre. As the flap copy notes, “Champigny defines mystery stories as narratives in which the goal projected into the future is a determination of the past.” Well, I’m not sure that’s the snappiest definition I’ve ever heard. In fact, it's not even in the top thousand. It goes on to declare that “spatiotemporalization is equated with individuation; the mystery in a mystery story is a problem of individuation.” I was unaware of this fact, or maybe these facts, although I was intrigued to learn that “the question of justice must be interpreted aesthetically.” That has possibilities. Your Honor, I object! The prosecutor’s tie is mundane, and leaves me without a satisfying sense of symmetry, while his chracterization of the events of February 1st are a mere surprise, not an epiphany.

I didn't make it all the way through this book, and it's probably my loss. The first half is pretty clearly an attempt to cloak his essential interest in the topic of detective novels within a defensible, theoretical, potentially tenurable guise. The second half looks to be more engaging...but I don't seem to be able to get there. It's spent a year on my nightstand, and somehow all the other books get picked up first.

The Art of Subtext by Charles Baxter. Quite an enjoyable book. But the title seems a little, well, on the nose, doesn’t it?

Three Rules for Writing a Novel by Willam Noble. The title, of course, is taken from Somerset Maugham’s “There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.”

Some Writers Deserve to Starve by Elaura Niles. The subtitle is 31 Brutal Truths About the Publishing Industry. An amusing book. A good gift for anyone who believes that writing a novel is the express lane to fame and riches.

How to Become a Famous Writer Before You’re Dead by Ariel Gore. An interesting book about strategy and self-promotion and becoming “an anthology slut” and all the other things you might do to give your so-called career an extra edge.

The Midnight Disease by Alice W. Flaherty. A book about compulsive writing, writer’s block, and the generally pathological factors that drive many of us. The author is a neurologist at the Harvard Medical School, and is also a compulsive (and sometimes blocked) writer. I find her author photo to be really, really sexy...in a nervous, tight-wound, slightly scary way. Portrait of the Artist as a Compulsive Writer.

One Continuous Mistake by Gail Sher. A Zen approach to writing by a Zen practitioner and psychotherapist. Too touchy-feely and far too mentally healthy for my taste, but a good title. I may steal it for my autobiography.

Writing in Restaurants by David Mamet. The title itself is perhaps a clue to why his trademarked dialog, from Glengarry Glen Ross to House of Games to Wag the Dog is always so damned convincing.

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. I’ve reviewed this one before, as it’s one of my favorite writing books. The spin on Sun Tzu’s classic title is pretty nifty, too, if you like that sort of thing.

13 Ways of Looking at the Novel by Jane Smiley. The title almost begs you to dispute the number (aren’t there really 12, an even dozen? Or seventeen, the number George Carlin asserts is an automatically funny number? Or thirty-two, the number of Paths of Glory on the Kabbalistic Tree of Life--naturally excluding the hidden Sephira Da'ath?). So it makes me want to argue. But when you add ‘by Jane Smiley’ it becomes an irresistible title.

Negotiating with the Dead by Margaret Atwood. Trust our Maggie to come up with the perfect title (pace Hemingway, who said the only choices a writer had were either to forge new ground, or try and beat dead men at their own game. The masterful Ms. Atwood knows there are other options than engaging in a dick-swinging contest.)

The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo. Well, that's provocative and obscure. Of course, Hugo was primarily a poet, so I suppose it ought to be expected.

The 3 A.M. Epiphany by Brian Kiteley. Subtitled Uncommon Writing Exercises. I hate writing exercises. I don’t do them. Can't do them. I can’t write, or shoot marbles, unless it’s for keeps. But it’s a good title, and the exercises are stimulating—even if, like me, you only read them (but refuse to do them).

Who’s Writing This? edited by Daniel Halpern. Subtitled Notation on the Authorial I with Self-Portraits. The impetus for the collection of essays was Borges’ essay Borges and I. This is the sort of thing writers shouldn’t think about too hard. The collection is composed of essays by writers who have been asked to think about this. Possibly too hard.

Writer’s Block and How to Use It by Victoria Nelson. Hey, there’s an upbeat take on a dire subject! As it turns out, this is one of those cheap-o books I picked up simply because the title amused me…and it turned out to be a compulsively readable little discussion of all the ways we can take what ought to be a state of play and enjoyment and turn it into a burden. A smart, down-to-earth, long-out-of-print book.

How to Avoid Making Art (or Anything Else You Enjoy) by Julia Cameron. A book of cartoons. The title says it all. Except I think she neglected to include blogging in her list of procrastination strategies…

Enough. But remember what Champigny pointed out: spatiotemporalization is equated with individuation. Much may it profit you.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

How the Banks Are Making Things Worse: Trying to Lock an Adjustable-Rate Mortgage

When we bought our current home, back in August 2001, we had a long discussion first. The place seemed perfect for us, but how badly did we want it and how long were we likely to stay? Because surely we had to be buying at the very top of the market; could we hang on through the 25% drop in real estate values that was bound to be coming in 2002?

To our astonishment and alarm, for the next five years or so house prices continued to climb, and the value of our (already-overpriced) house doubled. If you looked at family incomes in the area, if you looked at average rents, if you looked at any sensible indicator of value whatsoever, the assessed value of our house by 2005 was insane and unsustainable.

The value of our house has since tumbled about 30% in value and everyone in this city is whining about how ‘undervalued’ real estate now is. It’s still up probably 45% from the overpriced values when we bought it, and I’d guess it’s going to tumble at least another 20% before it stabilizes. Everybody is crying out that we need to get the economy back to ‘normal,’ and by ‘normal’ they seem to mean 2005. Well, sorry. Stocks need to have some relationship to corporate earnings, and house prices need to have some relationship to the income people have to pay their mortgages, and those factors have been wildly out of line with reality since about 1998.

This is on my mind because a real estate appraiser is coming by this afternoon to look at our house. Despite the credit squeeze, we’re refinancing.

Why refi? Because in addition to our basic fixed-rate mortgage, we have a rather modest second mortgage (actually a home-equity loan) on an adjustable rate. Adjustable rates have always made me nervous, but our banker pointed out that at any time we worried that rates were headed up, we could ‘lock’ the balance at a fixed rate for probably 0.5-0.75 above the current adjustable rate.

Our adjustable rate is now down at 4.25%, which is about as good as it gets, so we called the bank and asked them to lock it, expecting to be quoted a fixed rate of 4.75-5.00%.

The rate we were quoted to lock it was 9.60%. The bankers themselves were shocked by the number, and at a loss to explain it.

Can you believe it? In the middle of a foreclosure crisis, brought about in part by rising rates on adjustable-rate mortgages, when the US prime rate is orbiting zero percent, these bastards are charging almost ten percent annual interest to convert a loan to a fixed basis?

Now, this isn’t a crisis for us. We have the option of simply refinancing the whole mess, rolling our second into our first and taking on the total at a fixed rate of 5.3%--which is lower than the rate on our first mortgage, and will lower our total monthly payments. So it’s a no-brainer for us.

But not everybody is in a position to do what we’re doing. There must be thousands—maybe millions—of people out there who are trying to convert adjustable-rate mortgages to fixed-rate mortgages, and are being told that this will double their interest rate, sending it to murderous levels. Talk about predatory lending. The people most likely to be driven into default when interest rates head up again are those who are being screwed right now when they attempt to take judicious action. This is the last thing our economy needs.

Or, as Nobel-laureate economist Paul Krugman wrote in a recent article:

…[A] Washington Post report based on administration sources says that Mr. Geithner and Lawrence Summers, President Obama’s top economic adviser, “think governments make poor bank managers” — as opposed, presumably, to the private-sector geniuses who managed to lose more than a trillion dollars in the space of a few years.

Nationalize the bastards. Government isn’t good at running businesses? True. But they couldn’t possibly do any worse. Mattel’s Totally Hair Barbie™ couldn’t do any worse than these clowns.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Thinking About Thinker Attributions

Once more you can thank (or perhaps blame) a post by Emma Darwin for impelling me to gnaw on a subject and try to set my thoughts in some sort of order. As usual, Emma’s post touched on a half-dozen interrelated ideas; and, also as usual, my post contains only one idea. Maybe less.

'Thinker attributions’ are the inward equivalent of dialogue tags—that is, ‘she thought’ or ‘he wondered.’ In the Jane Austen era (or in the hands of Patrick O’Brian in our own era), such attributions often followed the conventions of standard dialogue: “Ah-ha, my friend,” he said inwardly, “that caught you off guard…” or “How the devil did she get to the top of that steeple?” he wondered.

Although these usages are still acceptable, many contemporary writers avoid quotation marks around thoughts. Modern readers tend to see quotation marks as stating that something was said aloud, and it can take them a moment to sort out what is being said from what is being thought—especially when inserted in the midst of an exchange of dialogue. Quoted thought becomes even more confusing if a character thinks and speaks in the same paragraph:

“That’s Susan, all right. Who else would wear galoshes with a bikini?” he said. “How the devil did she get to the top of that steeple?” he wondered.

Is that a mess, or what? To be sure, you could make it less clunky by rearranging it, but one of the constraints is that you probably don’t want quotation marks smacking up against one another. It’s simpler by far if you render the thoughts without marks, a more 'modern' style:

“That’s Susan, all right,” he said. “Who else would wear galoshes with a bikini?” How the devil did she get to the top of that steeple? he wondered.


“That’s Susan, all right,” he said. “Who else would wear galoshes with a bikini?” How the devil did she get to the top of that steeple? he wondered.

Ah, I hear you saying, but you don’t even need the thinker attribution. Why not simply:

“That’s Susan, all right,” he said. “Who else would wear galoshes with a bikini?” How the devil did she get to the top of that steeple?

Or even:

“That’s Susan, all right.” How the devil did she get to the top of that steeple? “Who else would wear galoshes with a bikini?” [etc., etc.]

True enough, and many editors and writing teachers now urge the elimination of thinker attributions in almost all situations. Sure, they say, they were needed back in the 19th century, when omniscient narrators slipped from one head to another; but in most fiction nowadays, they can be cut.

Emma’s point (and I couldn’t agree more) was that simply because attributions can be cut doesn’t mean that they always ought to be cut. Her example is wonderfully sly, because it doesn’t even involve a direct thinker tag, but instead nudges you deeper into POV by using “…I looked…” “…I watched…” “…I stared…”, until the moment is vividly, pointedly from the narrator’s eyes. None of these nudges is necessary to relate the story events, at least in the strict sense of information conveyed, but the quality of the reading experience is quite different.

I can think of five occasions when some form of thinker attribution is appropriate, and might even be required.

1. Handling shifts in POV without an explicit break. If you’re going to slither from head to head, there will be a point where you need to anchor the POV in a new consciousness. Sometimes the simplest means is to come right out and say ‘she thought’, but some writers, like Ann Patchett, are so good at piling up little clues that it is hard to point to a moment when you’ve been re-anchored; it’s an accumulation of evidence. (Of course, many of those who counsel you to avoid thinker attributions also tell you never to shift POV except at a break; some will even insist on a new chapter for each POV. Lord knows such an approach is simpler, and will keep the unskilful from hurting themselves, but we're old enough to mess about with fire if we choose.)

2. Modulating psychic distance. I’ve rattled on about psychic distance before. At one end of the spectrum you have narration in the voice of the novel (When the hot Santa Ana winds blow through Los Angeles, tempers turn as brittle and dry as the brush on the hillside…); at the other end, we are so firmly embedded in the mind of the POV character that thoughts can be reported without any question that the belong to the character rather than the novel (Fuck Henry, and fuck this job, and fuck this unending goddamned hot wind.). Explicit thinker attributions (“he thought”) occupy a middle ground in this spectrum. Emma’s indirect “he watched,” etc., clues, push us yet deeper into POV, or re-anchor us there. When dropping down from a large psychic distance to a close one—or even more important, when drawing back from a close psychic distance—thinker attributions smooth the transition, easing the reader effortlessly along the narrative.

3. Displaying thinking in concurrent time. Thinking is often treated in fiction as if it moves faster than the speed of light, and that usually isn’t a narrative problem. But when the time expended pondering is relevant—when the bomb is ticking, or when the angry lover demands a response—then thinking becomes an action, a time-consuming action, and like other important actions, it needs to be described, and often attributed.

4. Improving rhythm, prosody, or emphasis. Even when we are already in such a close psychic distance that there is no doubt we are hearing the character's unmediated thoughts, a thinker attribution can often add a certain emphasis to the parsing of a phrase.

I’ve earned this money and I’m going to keep it.

scans differently than:

I’ve earned this money, she thought, and I’m going to keep it.

and it’s the writer’s job to decide which fits best, whether a thinker attribution is “necessary” or not. The first example is more intimate, but I find the second to be more emphatic; the hesitation in the middle of the thought is more self-conscious, as if sje jhas paused to cross her arms defiantly across her chest.

5. Doing it because it feels right. Like the centipede who tripped when he thought about coordinating all those legs a-walking, a writer is (or ought to be) doing several things at once. When psychic distance is great a thinker attribution draws us closer, when we are in close a thinker attribution subtly pushes us away, and when we are in a tangle of action or summary, an attribution can make the events more vivid and personal. Attributions can introduce a nuanced pause, or increase the drama of a ticking clock, heighten hesitation, or confirm that we have slid from one point of view to another. And, to be frank, sometimes it just sounds better. Consciously or unconsciously (or, in my case, in my typical state of semiconsciousness) the writer needs to be balancing all of these needs to achieve the desired total effect, and it isn’t the sort of thing that’s amenable to rules.

There's my five. I may have missed some.

Writers need to know that thinker attributions can often be dropped. But knowing they are optional does not amount to a rule that they should be eliminated whenever the sense of the narrative can be preserved without them.

Since when is delivering information in the minimum number of characters the goal anyway? he wondered. What is this, R-U-OK text messaging?