1. Florent150
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    Florent150 Member

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    How to decide who's going to say what (when you have a lot of characters in a scene)

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by Florent150, May 8, 2011.

    This is something that's been bothering me a little bit. When you've got a group of characters, make 7 or 8 together, and they're observing something, how do you go about deciding who's going to "comment"? Do you randomly assign little comments about what's happening, or do you have some kind of deeper process regarding who's going to say what.

    So for example a group of characters are walking down a corridor and an inactive robot "crashes" randomly through a gap in a wall. Comments like "what the hell?" or "It almost looks like a person" get thrown around (it's just an example.) If you were writing this, would you just give those comments to whoever?

    I try to match the character's personalities to the stuff they'll comment on. However in reality anybody can comment on something (and their personality determines how they might comment; in shock, in indifference, whatever). So it just seems to me as being something that is chosen at random.


    Thoughts? Do you stick somebody's name to ambient comments at random? Or is there some kind of pattern you try and use?
     
  2. Lord Malum
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    Lord Malum Senior Member

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    I've always believed that if there's an "ambient comment" it doesn't belong in your writing. Dialogue should always, always, always serve a purpose, indeed every word you write. If "an inactive robot 'crashes' randomly through a gap in a wall" then comments on it should pertain to a character's dispostion to the event. Did one of the characters have something to do with it? Was the robot important to one of the characters? If not, the a curious look amongst the group will suffice. Remember, dialogue is a terrible thing to waste.
     
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  3. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    I agree with Lord Malum, I think each piece of dialogue should bring out something unique to the character that is saying it. If dialogue doesn't build a character's personality, then it should be taken out or re-written so it does.

    However, I find that sometimes the dialogue comes first, and is non-specific to a certain character. I have found I hear comments being said in a scene, but I don't always know who said them, at least not in the first draft. I can give it to one character, and it will give that character a flair of a certain personality. Or, I can give it to another character, and it will carry a different meaning because of his different personality. It can be really fun to play with these sometimes, kind of like toying with different colors on a painting.
     
  4. Sundae
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    Sundae Contributing Member

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    Hmm... I think the best way is to know your characters. Each one should have a certain personality and so it shouldn't be hard to figure out who would say what. If you know your characters, you would know which one would over-exaggerate something... which one would freak out... which one would be bored... etc., etc.

    It's just like a group of your friends. There is one that is the funny one. One that is rational and logical, one that is quiet... etc.

    If you know them, it should be easy to figure out which ones would say something and which ones wouldn't.

    Maybe sort their personalities out in your mind and that might help you.
     
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  5. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I disagree with Lord Malum's take.

    In fact, if a robot came crashing through a wall around 7 or 8 people and all that ensued was a curious look amongst the group, I'd probably throw the book in the trash unless there was a damn good explanation for such a relaxed and low-key attitude. People just don't behave that way.

    ^ Yes
     
  6. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Hmm. I agree with Lord Malum AND Steerpike. I think people should definitely comment on the robot crashing, but in a way that builds that person's character. My sarcastic character Gretchen would say something like, "I didn't know robots could drink and drive," or something silly like that.
     
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  7. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Don't write dialogue just to capture every utterance of youe characters. Dialogue should have purpose, generally to reveal character.

    When two people have a conversation, you can usually figure out who speaks first. However, even with two people, you may have two separate conversations.

    The more people you have present, the more separate conversations there can be, and who participates (or refuses to participate) with whom is often quite telling. Use that in deciding the order of speech. And then, only focus on the conversations thyat develop the characters or the story.

    Read some books where multiple person conversations are taking place. Janet Evanovich's novels contain frequent dinner conversations with ths somewhat oddball Plum family.
     
  8. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Yeah, I think this goes with what Sundae is saying. If you know the characters, you know how they'll react. There might be one who only gives a curious look, but out of a group I imagine you'd have a range of reactions, including comments from the group.

    All dialog serves the purpose of characterization, to some degree, whether the author wants it to or not, so it seems that pre-condition (if you agree with it) is fulfilled.
     
  9. JimFlagg
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    JimFlagg Contributing Member

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    I agree with most here. The personality of your characters will help you to determine when and who will speak. If a character cares about what is going on he or she will be more likely to speak up. I try to give my characters a moral base. Not only does it help with when they will speak but also to what they will say. Here is an example...

    I respond to Chris, “These questions seem a little personal like I was trying to get a date.”

    Chris’ face hitched an image of understanding as if this too is not the first time someone has asked this. He says, “In many ways it is. You are hopefully getting a life partner that will be the most intimate of friends.”

    Being young and not yet grasping all the levels of relationships there are; I react with disgust and blurt out loud, “I am not one of those sickos that get kinky with their A.I.s.”
     
  10. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's not about the personalities so much as the history of the character and what they want now. I've been writing some novels with 4 main characters who are often in every scene. They do naturally speak a lot and I never try to choose their dialogue because one of them is the serious character, one the spacey one, or whatever. If you want everyone to respond to a situation you have to consider why they'd respond that way, not what's expected of them. If you have stock phrases you think they should be saying then you're clearly borrowing cheesy dialogue from the movies. The comments should be based on the story, not what you'd expect the general population to say. You should know which of your characters would respond each way and why. It can be bad to give someone a personality trait then in a group scene have everyone act with mob mentality, forgetting or overlooking for the sake of an easy scene that one person in the group has an issue with it.
     
  11. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Respectfully, characters don't "want" to direct dialogue. Characters exist only in the author's mind until he or she manifests them in print. They have no will of their own. The author must decide what the character will do or say, and when.

    It's what the author needs to communicate at the moment that drives choices of what to say or do at any point in the story.
     
  12. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Obviously, characters are not real people. I think what The Almighty was conveying was the idea that, if you are truly in tune with your characters and if they are really well developed, there is this illusion that they have a mind of their own. They seem to think on their own, act on their own, and speak on their own.

    If a character "tells" you that they want to do a particular thing, it is actually you deciding that they what they will do. But the feeling is that, since they are so real to you, they are acting on their own accord. Isabell Allende (author of the House of Spirits) once stated that her mother was mad at her for using her likeness negatively in a story. Allende said that she had no control over her characters, that they act all on their own accord and she just writes down what they do.

    I have a similar experience when I improvise a jazz solo. Instead of me actively writing the solo as I improvise it, I can hear a melody in my head. It seems to come out of nowhere. What I then try to do is copy that melody as best I can on my instrument.

    I think there's a lot of mystery to creative thinking. Not always is it the author actively directing a character's dialogue, but seems to be driven by a bizarre force that in the end is only our complex minds. Like an Ouija Board.
     
  13. Melzaar the Almighty
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    Melzaar the Almighty Contributing Member Contributor

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    I don't know who else is Almighty here, but I didn't say that they become their own selves - my post was all about the writer not just making them say anything, but choosing their dialogue in a sensible manner. :p
     
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  14. funkybassmannick
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    funkybassmannick Contributing Member

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    Oh, I guess you didn't. I should read posts closer :p I still stand by what I said.
     
  15. Florent150
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    Florent150 Member

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    Thanks for the comments ;)

    I didn't quite mean it as having "some comment" and then picking who's gonna come out and say it as such. More like, who should speak. I have a clear view in my head about what each character would say/do as a result of the robot crashing through the walls if they spoke first; one of them would enforce their drama queen personality and maybe scream, one of them would recoil, then keep cool and comment on what they think the deal is with the robot, one of them would probably be sarcastic, or whatever. But the point would be that 8 people would all potentially have comments to make (nobody would be completely disinterested, atleast none of my characters would be.) The robot could be there to give clues about the scene they're in that maybe they're ignorant of and set atmosphere; maybe they learn the significance of this robot in relation to the scene a few pages later once they're "inside the room at the end of the corridor." But at that moment the robot isn't more interesting to any particular individual as the scene is important and perhaps new to all of them.

    They would all have their own unique reactions that would stay in tune with and build upon their personalities. But it would obviously be a lot of clutter if I wrote dialogue for all 8 to make their opinions known wouldn't it? So I could choose Character B who might enforce their dramatic personality and jump out the way screaming, or Character A who would keep cool and try to figure things out, or so on, again all in tune with their personalities. The robot would only serve to build the scene of the location and might serve as a clue to the secret of the place and get the reader/characters thinking, but as has been mentioned near-total indifference would probably be unrealistic wheras 8 characters all making comments and re-comments would probably be very taxing.

    At first I didn't understand what Cogito quite meant, but the comment of what the author needs to communicate at the moment got me thinking a little bit; Does that mean I guess it's just up to whoever I feel like should talk, maybe because I think they've been lacking comments a little bit and could use a reaction to build their character more than the others?
     
  16. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Yes. only report the reactions that stand out for your POV character or observer. Obviously everyone will react, if only to dive for cover. But certain characters' reactions may reveal important clues about them, like yelling to the character she seems to dislike most to watch out, suggesting maybe her feelings toward him aren't quite as negative as she makes them out to be.

    Focus on the important reactions and comments. Trying to show everyone's individual reactions will bog down the pace and destroy the impact of the sudden action.
     
  17. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    It very well may become clearer figuring out who says what in chapter one and why, as you progress along writing the story. as your characters become more defined the who says what riddle is less puzzlin'.....one size does not fit all ! Your character devoplment style may be such the characters will tell you how they will act and react....ya feel me >?
     
  18. chaoserver
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    chaoserver Member

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    I think making it natural is the only way to go. If a robot crashes down and there is no dialogue, that does not feel natural. If they are startled but you don't want to assign any one person as a speaker simply say something like "throughout the group startled yelps rang out" or whatever take you have on it.

    Alternatively if you have a character who is aggressive in nature you could have them cuss, or if a character is particularly cowardly they could scream and so on.
     
  19. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    In good fictional dialogue the character is speaking for him or herself. The character is not simply a marionette for the writer.
     
  20. Florent150
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    Florent150 Member

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    That's actually a very good point, especially as the story I'm working on at the moment is almost always through one, main, POV character allthough there are mainy "central" characters; more than I've had in stories before, so getting group dialogue correct has proved a little bit tricky for me ;)

    Immediately everything feels more logical now as it makes sense that the POV character isn't going to focus on every person's reaction, and therefore there must be a reason why he'd focus on anybody's in particular (which says something about his relationship with his friends).

    Cheers ;)


    And yeah I definitely know what you mean Killian. I said I know how each character would react but in truth I havn't built this story enough yet to have their personality so finalised, and some things have changed (as is probably healthy for a book), so the slight uncertainty makes it a little tougher to decide how people are going to react in early drafts of scenes I have planned when I'm experimenting.
     
  21. KillianRussell
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    KillianRussell Contributing Member

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    Characters are the most important part of any novel, and the time you invest in designing them will pay off ten-fold. Who says what and why becomes easy.
     
  22. Chachi Bobinks
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    Chachi Bobinks Senior Member

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    My suggestion is that you write down what everyone would say as a reaction, what they would observe, and so on. Then look at it and pick out what would actually move your plot along. I'd choose those pieces of dialogue to run with and if you feel that everyone would say something, state the rest as chatter. "Mr. Blahblahdiskins backed away from the wall as he gave his squashed nose a careful rub. He strained to hear Miss Talkypants over the clammor and chatter of those surrounding them..."
     
  23. Yoshiko
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    Yoshiko Contributing Member Contributor

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    I've never been in a situation where I've not known who was saying something. Assigning names to comments at random seems odd to me. Each character should have a distinct personality and voice; whether or not they comment should be something the author instinctively knows.

    My characters feel as if they have a mind of their own - when I visualise them in my head they don't speak in turn, they have over-lapping conversations and interrupt each other at will. Others are quieter and wait their turn to speak or say nothing at all. I don't need to think about, 'What would this person say?' Their responses feels completely automatic. Mind, I'm the sort of person who socialises in large groups more than smaller ones so it comes across quite natural in my head.
     
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