1. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    Juggling many characters at once in dialog

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by PeterC, May 24, 2012.

    I'm struggling with a scene that involves seven characters all talking together. Six of the seven only appear in this one scene and aren't important to the story. However, it is important that there be seven characters in the scene (the number is significant). All of the characters have high profile roles in society... politicians, high level military, CEOs, that sort of thing, and this needs to be made known to the reader.

    The scene is, as I'm sure you can guess, a meeting. The conclusions reached during this meeting are pivotal to my plot. I've been writing the scene with a focus on the one character that appears in the other parts of the story. Yet I'm finding it a challenge to balance the dialog and action. I don't want to jump around too much but I also don't want some of the characters to drop out of sight. I've tried to give each character a distinct concern so that I have a reason to mention all of them and so the reader can keep them all straight. Unfortunately the scene currently feels very artificial and forced.

    I'm wondering if anyone has any advice on how to best handle a situation like this. I find dialog increasingly difficult as the number of characters involved increases, and juggling seven characters at once seems to be beyond my skill.
     
  2. Nick Hudson
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    Nick Hudson Member

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    You could have 1-2 characters act as the 'chairs' of the meeting, have periodic injections by another character, two more that have a mini-monologue/speech, and one that is quiet all the way through (or perhaps, just to the end), that usually just interactions with gestures.

    It's okay if some have a degree of passiveness.
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    With more than two parties in dialogue, you must identify the speaker for nearly every scrap of dialogue, since it no longer strictly alternates between two parties.

    Tags start looking very repetitive in such a case, so make good use of beats as well. That also breaks up the dialogue and grounds it to the scene.

    Beats are small actions performed by the speaker, and placed as short sentences adjacent to dialogie fragments. See He said, she said - Mechanics of Dialogue.

    Notice I said nearly every scrap of dialogue needs a tag or a beat. With a little planning, the content of the dialogue fragment can make it clear who is speaking, either through characteristic uses of language or by internal context. For example, if a couple and their son are conversing around a dinner table, you know the son is speaking, if he says, "Dad, you aren't being fair." No tag or beat is needed.

    By the way, I think every writer should try writing a scene with multiple characters, just for the hell of it, and of course, for the enlightenment. Have fun with it!
     
  4. Carthonn
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    Carthonn Active Member

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    I have had a similar scene in one of my stories. It is a bunch of friends meeting after work at bar. The way I have decided to handle it is by having a single character, who is essentially the straw that stirs the drink of the group, act as the person running the meeting. I'm doing it this way because most of the character and plot development will come from this character. He'll initiate most of the questions and move the dialogue along.
     
  5. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Here is a Short Story Competition entry I submitted a couple years ago, in which I wrote a scene, all dialogue, with five participants: Table Talk

    It illustrates the strategies I mentioned in my previous post in this thread.
     
  6. jwatson
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    jwatson Active Member

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    You should write it out a couple times and mould your favourite version into a better version.

    What POV is it?

    I'm currently writing a first person story about a socially awkward person. There isn't much dialogue in the story. When there is, I present the dialogue through the thought process of the character.

    For example, he had to go to an interview where a pair of people asked him a series of questions. The way I did it was, I just presented the questions plainly, right after each other, making it obvious which person said what due to the content of each question.

    "Question 1?"

    "Question 2?"

    "Question 3 by the same person who asked question 1."

    "Question 4 by the same person who asked question 2."

    And throughout the series of the questions, the character didn't provide an answer, but instead went about it in his head.

    So, maybe you could do something like this. Have the dialogue presented quickly in spurts. You can use "..." at the beginning/end of each sentence that each character has to say, go from one piece of dialogue straight to the other, and make it evident who is speaking through the content of their respective dialogue. If one person is the CEO of an oil company, mention oil. If one is of car company, mention cars.

    All hypothetical.

    I think my post was confusing, so I'm sorry. I'm a fan of quick dialogue and then applying the detail afterwards. Kind of in a modernistic way... stream of consciousness type style. Just an idea.
     
  7. PeterC
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    PeterC Active Member

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    Thanks, everyone, for the suggestions. I think this is a scene I'm going to write multiple times... or at least revise heavily multiple times. I've decided to not worry too much about mechanics right now. In my first attempt I'm just going to focus on getting the essential things said. Once I have the content in place I can focus on cleaning it up using some of the ideas mentioned here.
     

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