Saturday, September 11, 2010

Nugget: Secondary Character Dialogue

Here's a little golden nugget of a writing tip for you on this beautiful Saturday.

This one is so obvious, when it was pointed out to me, I had a kick-myself-in-the-shin moment. One of those SERIOUSLY?-why-did-someone-just-have-to-tell-me-that moments.

But here it is, for what it's worth:

When revising, pay attention to your secondary characters' dialogue.

Read what they say, without the tag.

Is what they're saying interesting?

Can you tell it's them talking, without the tag line? Does it stand out?

This tip came from author Cynthea Liu, who was assigned my manuscript critique at the SCBWI conference in LA this summer. (Amazing critique, by the way. Motivated me to START ALL OVER AGAIN.)

My main character's dialogue stood out on those opening pages she read. But my secondary character (in this case, my MC's mother) was saying things like:

"Heather, I'm sorry, honey. Time to go."

"Get up, Heather."

"Oh, honey."

The critique was (very politely given): BORING, BORING, BORING. Spice it up. Give Mom her own personality and don't forget that dialogue is the perfect way to SHOW personality.

And, very fittingly, you can read this blog post by Cynthea Liu about Making the most out of your Conference Critique. I read through her points and prayed that I wasn't the CRAZY person who motivated her to write it.

Have a wonderful Saturday.


  1. Amy, I'm sure you weren't the crazy person who motivated her to write it!
    There is so much to good writing, I'm in awe of those who take it on. I'm just not up to it, but I'll happily serve by reading!

  2. Great point! I am *so* going to check for that on my MS read-through this week!

  3. Another great nugget, Amy. Thanks for sharing these. I've never been to a conference, so it's nice to hear.

  4. You aren't nearly crazy enough to be THAT person because you are obviously teachable. :o)

    This is great advice and very fitting because it's something I'm struggling with right now in the WIP. (Those pesky secondaries!)

    Thanks, Amy!

  5. Thanks, Amy! I appreciate the time you spend sharing what you've learned.

  6. Mimi, That's great. Reading is very important!

    Jessica & Jackee, Oh good! I'm so glad this dorky little tip will actually be used by someone except me. :) Hope your read- throughs/edits/writing go(es) well.

    Krista & Myrna, I was planning to share a lot more. I guess I'll just keep them trickling in. I'm glad you're finding them interesting! :)


  7. I'm so glad you had a light bulb moment!! It is amazing when someone points out obvious things, makes life so much easier for you!!

  8. Don't worry, Amy. I'm sure Ellen Hopkins wrote it for her after giving me my critique.

    At least Cynthea didn't tell you to rewrite the novel in a different tense (though I'm glad I got that advice).

    Good tip about stripping everything from the dialogue (tags, beats, etc) and reading through it. I find it helps tighten the dialogue (that is, when I realize it needs tightening). It also helps you realize when all your characters sound the same. If you can't tell who's saying what, it's time for some rewriting. And sometimes I end up adding more dialogue (or cutting stuff that's there) when I realize something's still missing.

  9. Wow, I hadn't thought of that either. Great point, and thanks for sharing! Now I have to go look . . .

  10. Thanks, Elise! Yes, I love lightbulb moments. :) I guess it's better to kick yourself in the shin once than to never realize the obvious thing that's staring you in the face.

    Stina, ha ha! I'm glad we both had helpful critiques. :) Yeah, I'm learning to do that too -- the removing tag tip. It IS helpful.

    Yay, Janet, I'm so glad it was helpful. Have fun looking over your WiP. :)


  11. Oh yeah, I forgot to say-- GREAT ADVICE!!!! I'll be checking my own character's dialogues. Wonder if they sound boring? :|