Friday, July 27, 2012

Friday Feedback: Talking the Talk with Amy Fellner Dominy!


This is Amy with me in NYC this spring -- we had just refrained 
from buying ridiculously expensive shoes :)
       

I am ridiculously happy to have Amy Fellner Dominy on my blog today, not only because she's super smart and talented (and has great hair), but because she's one of my best writer friends, and one of the few writer pals I turn to for help with revisions when I need it. Some of you who showed up for for our Teachers Write! Progress Pool Party had the pleasure to meet her for a bit.

          

Amy's the author of the debut tween novel, OyMG ("Jewish girl. Christian Camp.  Holy Moly")

(trust me: it's omg-wonderful! You must read it!)

and the soon-to-be-released (9/18 - and available for pre- order) Audition & Subtraction 

("All's fair in Love, War and Band Auditions").

From Publisher's Weekly: "Dominy presents a believably conflicted protagonist with a narrative voice to match; musicians will appreciate the many details Dominy works into the story." 

And, from Kirus: "Dominy's characters and situations -- shown through Tatum's authentic voice -- ring wholly true."

Notice the kudos Amy gets for authenticity and narrative voice?

Here's why: Amy is an expert storyteller, and moreso, an expert dialoguer (I'm coining that word if it's not real).

So, since we have her here, I convinced her to talk about talk.

And, if you share in the comments today --RULES HERE -- feel free to also post an excerpt with dialogue, because today's Friday Feedback is all talk!





When you're done singing, here's Amy!


Dialogue Tips from a Playwright-Turned-Novelist 

I love writing dialogue. If I could write an entire novel of only dialogue, I would.  Oh wait—that’s kind of what I did as a playwright. J  As a result, I got pretty comfortable with writing dialogue and I learned a few tricks that really helped me when I began writing novels.  I’m going to share two of them with you today and hope they’ll help you as well.

Minimize Tags

I know you’ve already covered the idea of simplifying tags**, so I won’t go into that.  But also think about deleting as many of them as you can altogether.  Conversation is meant to flow—it’s a back and forth exchange.  And if you keep interrupting to tell us “he said/she said” then you’re disrupting that flow.  When I write a scene of dialogue, my first draft has NO tags.  I just hear the voices in my head and write down what they’re saying and how they’re responding as if the conversation were happening on a stage.  Give it a try.  Once you’ve got the dialogue down, you can go back in and add tags—because yes, they’re needed.  But not as many as you may think. In general, less is more. 

Use Action Tags to Replace “he said/she said.”

It’s called “stage business” in the theater—something for the actors to do.  If you’ve ever acted yourself, maybe you’ve felt how uncomfortable it is when you’re on stage and you have nothing to do with your hands. I HATED that feeling.  So now, I try and spare my characters that awkwardness by giving them something to do.  And, in turn, that creates “action tags.”  Instead of “he said/she said” the reader knows who is speaking by what they’re doing with their hands.

Here’s an example from a scene in my upcoming book AUDITION & SUBTRACTION.  In this scene, Tatum (fourteen-year-old protagonist) is talking to her Mom.  While they talk, Tatum is helping her mom make packets for the classroom.  Count how many times I use a dialogue tag of “he said/she said” (or anything else.) Did you feel confused about who was speaking? J

I invite you to post a bit of dialogue from your own work.  I’ll leave it to Gae to do her amazing critical analysis while I’ll comment on your tags. Thanks!! And best wishes on your writing.


Mom handed me another packet. "You and Lori did a duet last year, and you pulled it off.  You'll do the same this year."

"Nothing’s the same this year,” I said.

“Such as?”

A pair of green-yellow eyes popped into my head. I shoved the packet in the stapler so hard,it double stapled. 

Mom’s eyebrows rose an inch. When her eyes weren’t all red, puffy and tired, they were pretty—dark brown and shaped like half moons.

“It’s just the new guy.  Michael Malone.”

“The one who sits next to you?”

I leaned on the counter, watching Mom stack the pages, but not really seeing anything but Michael.  “He doesn’t say anything during practice but I can tell he’s listening, waiting for me to mess up.  So he can say he’s better.”
“Is he?”
“No,” I said.  Then I shrugged.  “I don’t know.  Maybe.  He never squeaks, not even on the high notes.”
“You don’t squeak either.”
“Yeah, I do—when I get nervous.  And I can’t help getting nervous with him sitting next to me.”
“Then ignore him.”
“It’s not that easy.”  I flicked a nail through the corner of a packet, fanning the pages like a deck of cards.  “He’s always there. If he’s not staring at me, he’s staring at Lori.”
“Lori?”
“He’s got these beady eyes.  You don’t notice it at first, but they’re too close together, like a gorilla or something.”
“A beady-eyed gorilla?”  She handed me another packet.
I nodded as I fed it to the stapler.  “And his knees are bony and he never ties his shoes.  The laces are always trailing in the dirt and I mean, who knows what germs he’s dragging around with him?  Plus, he never swabs out his clarinet.”
- Amy (& gae)


** you can find a prior FF discussion of minimizing tags HERE in the comments section.

35 comments:

  1. Hi Gae and Amy! I'm so glad that we are working on dialogue today. I find that I struggle with tags, and tend not to put in any at all. I appreciate how you addressed this topic, and discussed adding action, or what the characters are doing while talking. Thanks for your feedback in this area! I hope you can figure out where mine are and what they are doing based on this piece of text:


    I must have hit my head on something on the way down this time, too, because as I feel the back of my head, there is a huge bandage and my scalp twinges when I touch it. The curtains flutter, and Dad appears.
    “Hey sweetheart. How are you doing?”
    “I feel like a buck two-eighty.”
    He laughs, “See, my jokes are funny after all.”
    Dad has a great sense of humor, although most are more groan-worthy than the ha-ha type. The buck two-eighty joke has made many rounds in our house.
    “So, where did I pass out this time?”
    “Well it seems like your pretty head kissed the water fountain outside of the gym. Not too much traffic in the hall this time, so I think we are safe to keep this one on the down-low.”
    “Dad, you are totally hip and everything, but we kids don’t say ‘on the down-low’ anymore.”
    “Anyhoo...” he rolls his eyes at me, “a nice girl named Dani ran to the coach’s office and got him to call up to the nurse. Her boyfriend David stopped the bleeding by using his varsity sweatshirt. We’ll have to get him a new one. Nice kid, though. Seems bright and so polite. He stayed to chat when I got here, and wanted me to tell you to feel better.”
    Awesome. Not only Dani, he-woman but Ape-man Dave, too. Great. Out of the whole school, why those two?
    “Yeah Dad. He’s great. Can we go now?” Boyfriend? I hadn’t considered their relationship before, but they do hang out together quite a bit. Dani doesn’t seem like the “boyfriend” type, though. She’s such a gym rat, and always smells a little like a sweaty sock. Huh.
    Blinking, I realized that apparently Dad was still talking to me, as I pondered the whole Dani-David thing, “...and the nurse wants me to take you to the doc to get checked for a concussion. I told her that this is not your first face-plant, but I’ll take you just to be safe.”
    “It wasn’t my face this time,” I grimaced, touching the back of my head again. My ninth grade face plant was the talk of Freshman year, only escaped by moving far, far away to the lovely state of Pennsylvaina.
    Dad gave me his, I-love-you-honey look, straight into my eyes. “I know, just trying to make you smile. Not working, I see.”
    “No. It’s not. Lets go.”
    I must have gotten up too quickly, because the floor and my feet weren’t quite on the same plane at first. “Whoa.” I should know better by now, with all of my dizzy experience.
    “I’ve got you, hun. Here we go.” And with a practiced grip under my arm, he escorted me outside into his truck, and we were off.

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    Replies
    1. Kristin, I think you do a really good job of the dialog tag/no tag thing here -- always clear who is speaking...

      on another note, I think you're switching tenses... starting in present ("scalp twinges" and "dad appears") and ending in past ("Dad gave me" "he escorted...") so that effected my smooth reading of the passage a bit. :)

      Meanwhile, why is this poor girl having fainting spells?! Is everything okay?! :)

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    2. Thank you for pointing out the tense change. I struggle with that, too!
      Don't worry- Beth's fainting spells are not life-threatening. They are stress-related, and she is going through a tough time right now. It will get better. :)

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    3. okay, then. I feel better and can go stuff my face with breakfast. :D

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    4. Hey Kristin,
      Arriving late to the conversation but that's only because you East Coast people are up way too early.

      Thanks for sharing your excerpt. Great job with tags!! You use the action very nicely to help convey who is speaking. I thought it was clear the whole way through, and even better, the tags all melded in to the story and that's what you want--not to notice them.

      Glad Beth is going to be OK--I was worried about those faints, too. :-)

      Delete
    5. Hi Kristin,

      I'm not an expert or anything as far as writing goes. I just wanted to say I was too busy reading to notice any grammatical problems. I loved it!

      Nanette

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    6. Hi Krisin,

      Ditto what Nanette said!

      Those great editorial eyes make FF such a helpful place.

      Great work!

      Delete
  2. We have been talking about tags and no tags in my writing group. It is tricky. I love the idea of showing action rather than just tagging. Your excerpt is very clear. The child and mother have such distinct voices that it is easy to know who is speaking.

    I may have put this section up for critique before, but I went back, added some, and worked on the dialogue. Thanks for reading!

    On the porch hidden by the screen door, I think I see a child. All I can see are eyes, big and round like white marbles, staring out at me. Still I am startled by the voice.

    "Hi, there! Whatcha' doin? Swinging?"

    A little black girl swirls off the porch and flies like a raven to my side. She wears a tattered pink dress that's too short for her long skinny legs. Her hair is plaited in braids close to her scalp. Her skin is as dark as a moonless night. She runs around me and pushes me forward on the rope. I swing higher and squeal.

    "Who are you? Where did you come from?"

    "My name is Harmony, Harmony, Harmony." Harmony sings her name higher and higher on the scale. "Who are you, you, you?"

    I unwrap my legs and stand holding tightly on to the thick rope.

    "I'm Blessen. I live right there in that double-wide with my momma, Miss Gardenia LaFleur. Are you living here now?"

    "Oh, well, it's all just temporary. We'll see, we'll see. Will you swing me high?"

    “Sure!” I help Harmony up. “Wrap your legs around the big knot. You steady? Hold on tight!”

    I swing Harmony gently at first. Then she begs me to swing her higher.

    She throws her head back and says, "Whee!"

    Harmony jumps down from the rope swing and runs toward Sunshine. Sunshine is spooked, so she trots under a nearby fig tree. Jump, jump, jump. Sunshine hops up to a low branch and starts to peck at a fig.

    “Is that your chicken?” Harmony asks. “I want to hold her! Can I hold her?”

    “Maybe later when she gets used to you,” I say committing myself to a new friendship with this young hyperactive girl.

    “So, how old are you, Harmony?” My head was full of questions. How old are you? Where is your mother? Where did you come from? Where do you go to school? One question at a time, I tell myself.

    “I’m six, about to be seven,” Harmony responds again in a sing-song voice.

    “Come see.” I gesture to Harmony to follow me to Sunshine’s coop. Sunshine follows us. I show Harmony one of Sunshine’s eggs, a soft light green color.

    “Sunshine is an Easter Egg hen,” I explain. “Her eggs are light and colored like Easter eggs.”

    Harmony reaches out and takes the egg in her hands.

    “Can I have it?” she sings softly.

    “Sure,” I whisper and gently hand her the egg as if it is a most precious gift.

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    Replies
    1. Hi Margaret,
      You're not alone in thinking tags are tricky! I still have to read over my scenes 3 or 4 times (out loud) to make sure it's all clear.

      I loved the "prop" you used in your excerpt--the swing. Not only does it give the characters something to do, but it tells me a lot about their surroundings and ages. I think you might even use it a little more.

      For example, take the sentence, "Who are you? Where did you come from?" That might be said by either character so you can make sure it's clear by adding an action tag. Something like: I grip the rope tighter. "Who are you? Where did you come from?"

      Nice job!
      Amy

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    2. Hi Margaret,

      Amy and Gae have given great feedback.

      I could definitely see Blessen in an entire book set!

      Delete
  3. Hi Amy and Gae,

    Super cute excerpt, Amy!
    I especially like how you show your MC's emotion with the whole stapler action. And I love the gorilla and germs references. Very funny!

    I could use a bit of diagloge tag help. Here's a section where my MC is telling his team that he plans to tryout for another team (with a better record.) Thanks for the help!

    Dad kept after me to tell the team that I was leaving, but I just couldn’t seem to find the right time. The hard part was over—I’d already told Billy and Dad. But, every time I said it, I felt like a huge gulf developed between me and whomever I told. I finally made the announcement before our last game.

    We had warmed up and we were in our huddle, just about to say our usual, “Titans on three,” when Dad said, “Guys, Jake has something he wants to say.”

    “Ah…yeah…ah, listen…the years I’ve played with you guys have been great, but I’m thinking about…about going out for the Comets in January.” I said the last part as fast as I could, hoping that they might miss the whole thing.

    “What’d ya say?” asked Mikey.

    “He said he’s ditching us for the Comets,” said Billy.

    “You wanna play for Southside?” asked Ben.

    “I’m not ditching anybody. I just need…look, it’s nothing against you guys. I just want a change.”

    Dad stepped in to save me. “I support Jake’s decision. And I’d support any of you if you decided to play for another team. Things can’t stay the same forever.”

    It was quiet and I felt all of their eyes on me.

    Dad said, “Okay, we’ve got a game to win. Titans on three. One. Two Three!”

    And we said the lamest, “Titans,” I’d ever heard. The weakness of our chant matched our playing. We lost our last game eight to zero. I played so pathetically, I was sure the team was happy I was going.

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    Replies
    1. Dana,
      You do a great job here of building the anxiety and keeping it going, even into the game that was lost.
      I agree with Gae about the three tags needing some action. If these are regular characters, you can use an action to further develop their character. Does one of them always flick his hair back while he speaks or crack his knuckles? In the final part, you could probably lose the tag Dad said or add an action in for Dad. What about "We weakly chanted, "Titans," and went on to lose the game? So many possibilities. Keep writing!

      Delete
    2. Thanks, Margaret! Great idea!

      Delete
  4. Margaret, you know, I LOVE this, blah, blah, blah. Im sure you're sick of hearing how I love it. ;)

    A few scattered thoughts:

    a. LOVE this so: "A little black girl swirls off the porch and flies like a raven to my side."

    b. think you do a really good job with dialogue tags vs. no tags as well! For some reason, I'm craving NO tag after Harmony says, "Can I have it?" There's something so pure and powerful about the request for a little egg from this girl who I'm guessing has nothing. . . I just love it standing on its own?!

    c. you also switch tenses -- from present to "my head was full of questions" when is seems to stay true to the present tense and makes it feel more immediate and sort of anxious to need to hold them from getting out. Also, I dont think you need to repeat the "how old are you?" question. We just heard her ask it, thus know it is there.

    Keep going!

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    Replies
    1. You're one of my favorite cheerleaders, Gae. Thanks!
      Love the suggestions, too. I've written both my first Blessen and this sequel in present tense and am constantly having to check in on it. Somehow past tense comes more naturally. But I love the feel of present tense. Thanks for catching this.
      I will keep going. When this summer started, I was encouraged by my readers to write more about Blessen, but there were so many directions and way too many opinions out there. Now I feel like I am moving along and in my own direction. While I love Blessen's voice, I want to create something new and fresh. Thanks so much for your help!

      Delete
  5. Last chime in from me for a bit... Amy's a few hours behind, so she should be here shortly and I'm leaving her no HARD work to do (can't let her be a Friday Feedback slacker!)

    Dana, here's what I think. You've done a pretty good job with the dialogue tags, but right here might be a perfect place (instead of "said, asked, said") to give one of the boys an action, instead of a tag (i'm just making an action up here):

    “What’d ya say?” asked Mikey.

    “He said he’s ditching us for the Comets.” Billy glared at me and punched his fist into his glove.

    “You wanna play for Southside?” asked Ben.

    “I’m not ditching anybody. I just need…look, it’s nothing against you guys. I just want a change.”

    Keep going!

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    Replies
    1. Hey Dana,
      I'm going to chime in here right after Gae's comment because I totally agree with her suggestion of adding action tags in that little section. The cool thing about the action tag is you can also tell us the emotional reaction of each of the boys through the tags. Maybe some of the boys will miss him? For instance (and I'm just making this all up here:)

      "What'd ya say?" asked Mickey.

      "He said he's ditching us for the Comets." Billy glared and punched his fist into his glove.

      Ben toed the dirt, his chin a little wobbly. "You wanna play for Southside?"

      You get the idea. Nice work--keep writing!!
      Amy

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    2. Thanks, Gae and Amy! Those are good suggestions and I can easily incorporate them.

      Gae - you've probably already done this (I'm relatively new to FF), but could we send in our first page excerpts one FF to see if they hook the reader?

      Thanks always for being so generous!

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    3. Dana, I have Terry Trueman next week (I think) and he has a brand new book out, so I'll see if I can steer the post to first chapter hooks again! I love doing that anyway! :)

      Delete
  6. Hi, Amy and Gae!

    Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading your excerpt (it flowed like a good real-life conversation does). With my sixth graders, I let them write "he said" OR "she said" because most of them are using quotes (dialogue) for the very first time. They are not even confident with the comma, quote, period, exclamation point, or question mark usage in dialogue. I have been tempted to start them with "he said" OR "she said" and then move to NO tags at all, so they can see the flow of conversation.
    Thank you for sharing the excerpt - I can't wait to read the book!

    Here is my excerpt of dialogue (from WIP):

    Grandma continues, “Then it happened. He was having many issues with his heart and our doctor admitted him to Calabash Medical for observation. I was at the hospital day and night for weeks because for the first time in our marriage, he seemed vulnerable, and I actually felt bad for him. On the second night, I met Nurse Patty and we became friends. When your grandpa was sleeping, which was often, I followed Patty around the hospital and she introduced me to the children’s section of the hospital. I met two young kids, Tommy and Bridget, that were cancer patients that had been in the hospital for months. They changed my life. Each night, I went to their room to play games with them and read them a book before bed. That was when the nightly visits began, almost twelve years ago. As a child, I was a caregiving person that wanted to help everyone, but that all changed after about two years of being married to your grandfather. He belittled me and made me feel terrible about myself. I was scared to leave the house. I was even scared to care about my son.”

    “Did he ever apologize? Did he ever feel bad like Mr. Lancaster?”

    “After retirement, and when your dad married and moved north, I believe that he started to feel shame for all of the years that he treated me so poorly. While in the hospital, he asked me questions like ‘Do you still love me?’ and ‘Did you ever want to leave me?’ I waited for an apology each and every day spent at the hospital, but the apology never came. He treated me horribly for so many years. I am pretty sure that he had girlfriends while we were married, but I have never investigated it, because truthfully I really don’t want to know. Even after all of those awful years of marriage, do you know what angers me the most about him?”

    I shake my head.

    “That he never said that he was sorry.” Her voice is trembling and the light of the moon shows tears on her cheeks.

    We sit in silence for what seems like an eternity, before I ask, “Did my dad know about all of this? About the way Grandpa treated you?”

    She nods.

    THANK YOU FOR READING! Have a great weekend!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Andy,
      I think dialogue must be one of the hardest things to teach 6th graders partly because of all the punctuation. When my kids were that age they never wanted to write dialogue so they wouldn't have the opportunity to mess it up. :-)

      I love how your excerpt ends -- I can see that this will be a very emotional scene. My one suggestion would be to try and break up the long paragraphs of dialogue if you can. Because Grandma has such a lot to say, this might be the perfect place to insert a little "stage business." GIve her an afghan that she's holding, or put some knitting in her hands -- it can be ANYTHING. It might also be nice if it's something the two of them are doing together, like folding laundry for example. Use the action to break up her words; give her places to pause. It will also add that emotion to the scene. For example, the moment her knitting needles pause, will be very telling. Hopefully that makes sense!
      Amy

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    2. Wow, Andy, what a poignant, painful scene. :( I love the boy's minimal interaction -- think it reads authentically. And I agree with Amy about breaking up the grandma's otherwise really spot on speeches with a bit of JUDICIOUS action. I would imagine, since this is still hard stuff for her -- we feel her emotion and hear her voice trembling -- that she might be doing a nervous activity, as amy suggests, or at least fidgeting with something. Keep going!

      Delete
    3. p.s. see you made it here despite the beach! (yay!). Did you get any open water swimming in?!

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    4. Amy and Gae, THANK YOU VERY MUCH FOR THE FEEDBACK. I have been working on revisions for this middle grade story all summer long, and I feel like it is coming together. I have a long way to go, but it has been fun to see how far I have come since starting this project last April.

      Gae, I made a pit stop in MD to visit my sister, but I will be back on the road tomorrow for the beaches of NC. I will be in the open water on Saturday evening (I CAN'T WAIT!).

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  7. In this excerpt, Lira is learning to fight with a quarterstaff. A friend has suggested that as long as she depends on the healer's magic to fix her aches and pains, she will have no incentive to become a better fighter.

    -------

    “Halt. Healer.” Lansing called.

    Lira stepped back, chest heaving. Davey was on the ground, writhing in pain. “I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

    The healer bent over the boy. Lira could sense her healing magic delving into his body. “You cracked his collar bone, but he’ll be fine.” The healer helped Davey to his feet, his injury gone. She turned to Lira and smiled. “You’re next. You might have some broken ribs from what I saw.”

    Lira shook her head. “I’m fine.” She prodded her side, wincing from the spreading bruise. I’m sure nothing’s broken. I don’t need to be healed.”

    Lansing appeared at Lira’s side. “You should let her check for cracked ribs. Some things need to be mended.”

    Eyes narrowed, the healer put her hand on Lira’s shoulder, her power delving through her body. She frowned. “Nothing is broken, but the bruising is significant. Lira, be reasonable. Let me heal you. There is no reason for you to suffer.”

    “No. Thank you. I’ll be fine.” Lira stepped away, breaking the contact. Lansing nodded and seemed to approve her decision. Lira felt a sense of accomplishment from his wordless praise.

    Kargrath’s (earlier) predictions proved true. Lira’s fighting skills increase significantly when she stopped depending on the healer. Her time with Pauel was equally fruitful. Lira began to look forward to a battle where she could put her new skills to the test.

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    1. Hi Nanette,
      Nice job with your tags. You use action and visual cues very nicely to let me know who is talking.

      I do have one suggestion that might help strengthen this scene. The actual dialogue in this passage is fairly stilted; the sentences are short and proper. That might be a perfect fit for one character but in this scene Lira, Lansing and the healer all have similar speech patterns. Is there a way for you to differentiate the characters by the way they speak? For instance, is one of them younger, more impetuous and less proper? That might come out through the way they talk. Just something else to think about. :-)

      Amy

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    2. It's interesting to read Amy's comments because I'm not sure I would have put my finger on them sounding alike in that fairly stilted sense (plus, given the genre, I someone expect that formality throughout?) but I am having trouble with some of the pronouns -- with the three of them there and the his and her and I had to go back and read to see who was who... so maybe Amy's suggestion would be the key to solving that. ??? :)

      As always, I'm intrigued by this excerpt and think you portray the feeling of this story so consistently well. :)

      Keep going.

      (I know that wasn't so eloquent, hope you know what I was saying.)

      p.s. I love these opening lines:

      “Halt. Healer.” Lansing called.

      Lira stepped back, chest heaving. Davey was on the ground, writhing in pain. “I didn’t mean to hurt him.”

      and Lansing sounds so strong here. So maybe it's his next bit of dialogue "some things need to be mended," that sounds softer and more feminine. ? But again, the time/genre makes much of this work for me! :D

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  8. Ironically how I am making an effort to improve my dialogue. I can't said 50 million saids, but I have to be careful that I don't stop the flow of the plot to find other words than said. I like how you said just to tell the dialogue going without tags then eventually add action.

    Here is an excerpt from a YA novel that I am currently working on.

    https://docs.google.com/document/d/1XW0ufPVZNBm-7dL6hMMlTltlqadWk52y8LvR2X59RKI/edit

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  9. Excerpt from The Cover Up Artists

    MONICA JAMES

    “Who is that caramel drop at your house,” inquired Sharise.

    “Who are you talking about,” I responded with a question because I don’t know who they are referring to. It can’t be Donovan because he is a brother from another mother. Our moms are best friends.

    “Are you blind?,” scolded Tia. “That boy who is playing basketball in your driveway is FINE! How can you not see that?”

    While hunching my shoulders, “I guess you are talking about Donovan?” Still clueless...

    “Rico Suave who looks about your age … with the curly hair that I want to run my fingers through.”

    You would never guess that these girls, along with me, are nine years old because a child that young shouldn't’ have a mouth that fresh and fast... according to my mother.

    “We have never heard of him. Why isn’t he your boyfriend,” Sharise said while shoving my shoulder.

    Tia just laughed so loud that Don, his brother, and my brother looked over to see what is so funny. She knows that I wasn’t really into boys like they are. Sharise takes that as an opportunity to wave at who she declares is one of the finest boys she ever seen. Don just nodds his head and goes back to playing ball with our brothers. I don’t know if the reason why I don’t see it because I just wasn’t into boys like that or I felt like Don was like family. Either way, all I saw was Donovan “Don” Brown … not Rico Suave.

    “It is like the candy man has personally delivered a yummy piece at your door steps and you don’t know what to do with it. Seriously, you are tripping for not scooping him up,” Tia cooed then giving Sharise a high five to confirm their foolishness.

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    1. Ms. Jenx,
      You have some wonderful bits of dialogue in here--love the unique way the girls phrase things which makes it feel authentic.

      You've posted a challenging excerpt because you've got a scene with multiple characters. You have to be extra careful that the reader knows who is speaking. So, you will need more tags, either "he said/she said" or else action tags.

      For example, I'm not sure who is saying the line, "Rico Suave who looks about your age..." That could be Tia or Sharise, right?

      This scene is really a great opportunity to try adding a little action. What are the girls doing? Are they outside playing? Whatever they're doing, use that to paint a picture for the reader while also helping let the reader know who is talking.

      For example, here's how the scene might start if the girls are inside the house.

      "Who is that caramel drop at your house?" Sharise pulled the curtains wider and stared through the window.

      I nudged her aside. "Who are you talking about?" I glanced at the boys playing basketball across the street. It couldn't be Donovan....(etc.)

      Again, that's just one idea. Play around with it -- and good luck!
      Amy

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    2. Hi, Ms. Jenx,

      Welcome to Friday Feedback! What a fun excerpt with really rich dialogue!

      I do want to clarify about the tags... if you're going to use a tag, you want to mostly only use "said" and NOT try to think of other creative ways to say said like "responded" or "scolded" except incredibly sparingly. The rationale being that "said" clarifies but disappears, where those other versions become distractions/pop you out of the story. What Amy is suggesting is that instead of using said, you use action cues to indicate who is speaking... but as for tags, when needed -- and they are! -- almost always stick with "say" and "said." Here's my favorite Elmore Leonard on that (man, he should pay me a commission ;)) -- see #3 and #4 **http://www.writingclasses.com/InformationPages/index.php/PageID/304

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  10. My MC, Jane, has just found out (through a "Dear Jane" letter) that her husband left her. After getting drunk, making a mess of her kitchen, and falling asleep with the help of a sleeping pill, she awakens to the sound of the doorbell. It's the cleaning service!

    Excerpt from LIKE MERLOT

    “May I come in?” Her smile faltered.

    “What’s your name?” I don’t like inviting people into my home whose names I don’t know.

    “Helena.” She stretched out her hand to me. And you’re Mrs. Hutchings.”

    “Yes. Well…um…yes. Yes, I’m Mrs. Hutchings.” I shook her slim hand, and was surprised by the firmness of her grasp. Please come in.”

    As Helena stepped into the foyer, I became self-conscious of being half-dressed. I desperately needed a shower, but now I had to train a new cleaning girl. This day was not starting out very well.

    “This is a very nice home you have.” Helena surveyed the entryway and the view into the living room. Suddenly her nose wrinkled and she exclaimed, I smell smoke. Is there something burning?”

    “What? Oh, no. I just forgot to open the flue last night when I started a fire in the fireplace and smoke backed up a bit in here.” I shuddered at the memory.

    “Oh. I haven’t been trained in how to remove the smell of smoke.” She replied nervously.

    “Never mind that. Come with me and I’ll show you what you need to do.”

    We headed for the kitchen, and I paused before entering. I quickly scanned the room to remind myself how bad it was. Then I spotted the letter still lying on the floor, drenched in wine. I quickly strode to the table and snatched the papers off the floor, careful not to get any wine on my bathrobe.

    “What happened here?” Helena’s eyes were wide with shock, and I suddenly felt ashamed.

    “Uh, I just had a little accident. I…um felt ill all of a sudden and…uh…well I made it just in time to the powder room.” I pointed to hallway off the kitchen. I was too sick to take care of this afterwards.” My mouth was dry, and I had the beginning of a headache. I could only imagine how bad this looked to this stranger.

    She must think I’m a drunken fool, the way this place looks. I suddenly wanted her to go away, but she continued to stand there in the kitchen doorway, taking all of this in with her big brown, young eyes. I wondered if this is the sort of girl Stephen left me for.

    “I can handle this in here. If you could just show me where your cleaning supplies are, I’ll get started.” Helena seemed unfazed by her chaotic surroundings, something I didn’t understand.

    “Oh, sure.” I managed to choke out. Right this way.” I led her to the cleaning supply closet down the hall next to the powder room.

    “Thanks.” she smiled. Her face was bright and warm now. I half-heartedly returned her smile.

    I must look like hell. I ran my hands through my tangled hair and tightened the belt on my robe. “Um, I’m just going to take a shower and then I’ll be right back down.”

    “Take your time. I’ll be here a while.”

    That’s for sure. “Ok. Then I’ll show you the rest of the house and what needs to be done.”

    She smiled again and took the mop down from the hook on the door. I tightened the belt again on my robe and turned to leave. I hesitate and then turned back to Helena. I was startled to see a brief moment of sadness in her eyes when she thought I wasn’t looking.

    “Thanks for coming. On such short notice I mean.“

    “It’s my pleasure.” Her signature smile spread across her face. There’s that nagging feeling again that I knew her somehow.

    But I turned away and headed back upstairs.

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  11. Wendy,

    I really like this a lot! Really nice characterizations of Jane and Helena. If anything, for me, you almost have too much stage direction, like there constant movement/direction that, I as the reader, have to wrap my brain around, so in revision, maybe you could scale back the slightest bit. But it's really wonderful the scene you've created. Almost feel as though I'm watching a play. Also watch tenses... you also seem to move from past to present to past a bit. Overall, excellent! And welcome to Friday Feedback. :)

    p.s. punctuation here: “Oh, sure.” I managed to choke out. and here: “Oh. I haven’t been trained in how to remove the smell of smoke.” She replied nervously. should both be commas not periods between the dialogue itself and the tags.

    pps. watch the several uses of the word suddenly. (I count at least three... if not four in this brief excerpt... and no worries, I do it too! You just go back and remove them. ;) ) **http://www.writingclasses.com/InformationPages/index.php/PageID/304**

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  12. Gae,
    Thank you for your feedback. It helps so much to have another pair of educated eyes to review a draft to find those mistakes.

    Looking forward to next week!

    Wendy

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