1. Edgelordess

    Edgelordess Member

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    How do you write a dialogue with 3+ characters?

    Discussion in 'Word Mechanics' started by Edgelordess, Jul 22, 2018.

    I seem to struggle with writing dialogue, as I used to have a habit of adding a variation of said after the character names. But I find it harder to express dialogue with multiple people. What is the approach to this method?
     
  2. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    Can you clarify what you're finding to be more difficult with multiple characters? Tags, beats, etc., should work the same, though you do mostly lose the option of using nothing at all. Admittedly, pronouns can be an issue, since you presumably have either two "she" or two "he".

    A hurried sample:

    Jane dropped into a chair. "So. What are we discussing?"

    John said, "We're not. We're waiting for you. You're late."

    Mary looked up at the clock. "Very late."

    Jane said, "When I'm late, you're all supposed to make good use of the time." She reached for a menu.

    "Or you could just be on time," said John.

    "Nah." Jane looked around, and waved at the waitress.
     
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  3. Edgelordess

    Edgelordess Member

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    Thats exactly what my writing looks like, lol. Especially during character introductions.


    “How many d8s do I roll?” Daniel, a mid twenties blonde freckled man with a bowl haircut, asked.


    “Three plus dex modifier.” Britney, his dungeon master answered. She was a short, petite latina woman, around the same age.


    A young heavy set haitan woman with curly afro heard her phone go off, as she was playing the game. “That's my cue to go, guys.” She announced to her campaign group, stuffing items in her backpack.


    “Awwww! But Carmin, we just started combat.” Daniel whined.
     
  4. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I think it's a bit awkward to have the character descriptions all lined up like that, but otherwise... yeah, I think that's how you do it.

    In order to avoid all the tags, it may work better if you give characters a bit more to say each time. Having a rapid-fire exchange of short sentences makes the dialogue-to-tag ratio less than ideal.

    I don't usually do a lot of character description, but if I were opening a scene like this, I'd probably skip the little bits of "scene setting" dialogue and put the description in a "telling" passage at the start. Something like.

    The game was tense. Under ordinary circumstances Daniel would never have allowed his blond bowl cut to have even a hair out of place, but tonight it was rumpled and wild and he hadn't been to the mirror once to check on it. Britney was so engrossed in her dungeon-master duties that she had several times lapsed into her grandmother's Spanish and had to be prompted back to English so the rest of the crew could understand. And Marie-Claire? Her afro was still tidy and she'd managed to keep herself from breaking out her Haitian patois, but that didn't mean her focus wasn't completely on their campaign through the Grapdorn Forest.

    Except... when her phone rang, she sprang to her feet as if she'd been waiting impatiently for the call. "That's my cue to go, guys."

    "Aw!" Daniel whined. "We just started combat."

    "Sorry. I'm needed elsewhere."

    "Where, exactly?" Britney asked. She wasn't known for respecting boundaries at the best of times, and when she was in DM mode she was especially invasive.

    "Another campaign calls to me. A real one." Marie-Claire was done stuffing her backpack and had taken two steps toward the door before Britney responded.

    "You've made a commitment here. You need to respect that."

    Marie-Claire's shrug wasn't even a little apologetic. "This is a game. The real world is out there; you should visit it some day."​

    Or whatever. There are some things you don't need to tag, once you get into a scene, because there's only one character who could reasonably say it. Otherwise? Tag, but try to make the tags add to the story rather than just attribute dialogue. But make sure the additions actually contribute, not distract. Easy, right?
     
  5. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    My own writing is a bit different from some, but here is a scene I wrote for my novel that contains ten speakers. This scene comes quite late in the book, so these characters are all well-known to the reader by this time. However, I think the trick to writing multiple conversations within a scene is to take your time. Don't just fire dialogue at the reader, punctuated by a few saids. Set the scene and provide lots of detail that makes the scene stick.

    In this scene, the POV character is Jessie, who co-owns the B-Bar-N ranch with her brother Rob Buchanan. They have just taken on Jessie's new husband Joe as a full partner. This scene takes place in Montana, during a roundup, in the spring of 1886. Rob has just returned from an Association meeting in Miles City, and is about to fill everybody in on what happened at the meeting.


     
    Last edited: Jul 26, 2018
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  6. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    You're in luck, the chapter I'm working on has three 12-year-old girls talking around a campfire off in the wilderness many miles south of Paris. At this juncture in the story they don't know one another very well, but as they'll soon be passing around a gourd jug of brandy that's bound to change. Can't wait till the conversation turns to boys!
    The story takes place in France, 1792, during the Revolution. This passage is somewheres in the middle of the chapter. Mango is Mabel's pet mongoose, Achilles is a one-eyed cat that belongs to Rosemarie, and Adeline has her magpie. You think you have troubles working out a conversation with three people... try adding three animals for good measure.:)

    It still requires editing, but it's good enough for now...
    __________________________________________________________

    So, the three of them sat around the fire, chewing gamy meat and passing around a potato, each taking a bite in turn. For all it was, the simple act of sharing a meal in the wilds, it seemed to leaven their spirits with a faint sense of accomplishment. Rosemarie was quick to thank Mabel for preparing their little feast, for which Adeline made a face and declared that if she never ate rabbit again it would be too soon, but all the same, asked for another small helping to show her appreciation. Mabel finished her meager supper first, then snapped the leg bone and sucked out the marrow. Adeline was about to show her distaste, but caught Rosemarie eyeing her testily, and so swallowed it back. Off by himself, tucked in the hollow of a rotting tree stump, Mango devoured the hunter’s share of the spoils while Achilles, more befitting his rank as a civilized predator, took bits of rabbit at Rosemarie’s feet. Adeline wiped her greasy hands on her skirt, then rummaged in her knotting bag, producing a handful of dried dates that she placed neatly on her lap. Her magpie fluttered down from a low-slung branch and landed on her knee, and promptly shoved its beak into the sweet morsels.

    “I still can’t believe she found her way here,” Rosemarie said between bites.

    Adeline frowned at her, confused.

    “Josephine,” Rosemarie said with a nod. “Hugo’s bird.”

    “Ah, right,” Adeline said, recalling the story Rosemarie had told of freeing Hugo the Tailor’s infamous bird from its cage just before she made her own daring escape from the opera house. “Well, I’d reckon there are thousands of magpies throughout Paris, let alone France…” There was not a hint of sarcasm in her voice.

    “No, it’s Josephine,” Rosemarie insisted. “I’m quite sure of it. Watch.”

    She raised her hand and clucked three times. Without hesitation, the magpie sprinted from Adeline’s knee into the air, flapping its wings until it landed on Rosemarie’s index finger. All at once Achilles went tense, his ears back and head cowed, and dug his claws into Rosemarie’s thigh. Rosemarie stifled a cry, and not for the first time feeling like the Devil’s pincushion, wondered what in the world her cat was so frightened of. “Have you ever witnessed such a thing… a fierce tomcat, the sworn enemy of birds, deathly afraid of a defenseless magpie? Achilles here dispatches pigeons and crows by the score, but he won’t have another go at Josephine. He tried once, and it cost him an eye. You wouldn’t have believed it; do you know what Josephine did after she’d plucked his eye out?” Rosemarie leaned forward and poked the fire with a stick, sending a swarm of embers heavenward. “I’ll tell you precisely what she did… hung his eye from the top of her birdcage as if it were the most precious jewel in all of creation. It was positively ghoulish!”

    Adeline picked up a dried date and looked to the magpie, but as the bird seemed to have lost interest in her, she meekly placed it back in her lap. “It’s true then, she’s your Josephine,” she said stoically.

    “Or a mummer’s trick,” Mabel muttered, sucking a bone.

    Rosemarie faced the magpie again, stroking under its chin. “This bird is one of the last remnants of my old life. I’d know her anywhere. And this one would too,” she said, and gave Achilles a pat on the head.

    Mabel turned to Adeline, saving a snide remark for the fussy girl, but held her tongue. Adeline had fell silent and was staring blankly into the fire with her hands tucked between her knees. Mabel took the rabbit bone and tossed it, hitting Rosemarie in the shoulder, then motioned for her to take notice of the girl’s sullen mood.

    Rosemarie knew instantly what had Adeline crestfallen. She’s fond of Josephine and can’t bear to lose her. She shooed her demoralized cat off her lap, and with the magpie still perched on her finger, walked around the fire and knelt beside Adeline. “I don’t know if by sleight of hand or twist of fate that Josephine came to you, but she’s chosen to be your guardian and there’s no getting out of it. Now, stop sulking and put your finger out.”

    Adeline refused to turn from the fire, but poked an angry finger out as if daring the magpie to come to her. Without having to be prodded in the least, Josephine hopped from Rosemarie’s finger onto Adeline’s. Begrudgingly, Adeline pulled her stare from the flames and met Josephine’s ink drop eyes. The magpie crooked its head, and winnowed at her.

    A quiet contentment settled over the forest glade on the edge of a grove of oaks. After a short spell, Mabel took from her rucksack the shabby blanket she’d taken in haste as they departed her aunt’s cottage. Rosemarie and Adeline followed her lead and each pulled out their bedrolls and soon enough the three girls huddled around the fire.

    In the stillness came the distant call of an owl:

    Oohu-oohu.

    Oohu-oohu-oohu.

    Rosemarie listened to the haunting notes floating on the air, remembering. She peered through the dark; up the slope from their little camp in a pool of moonlight at the crest of the hill, a horned owl kept watch from a gnarled branch of a sheltering oak. She turned to the other girls, who looked tired and sore and lost in their thoughts. A story might be just the thing. “I knew a courtesan to the queen,” Rosemarie said, trying to keep the pride from her voice. “Know a courtesan, that is. Mademoiselle Valerie.”

    “Oh, do you now? How does one like you know a courtesan to the queen?” Adeline said with the narrowed eye of one who suspects a tall tale is in the offing.

    “What does a courtesan do?” Mabel inquired thoughtfully.

    “A courtier,” Adeline said. “Beautiful, educated, worldly women serving as entertaining companions to members of the upper-class and royal court, usually in exchange for a pittance.”

    “A pittance,” Rosemarie said, shaking her head. “Not likely. Not my Valerie.”

    “Fine, then. An allowance. It’s contingent upon the courtesan.”

    “Valerie knows the ‘Nuns of Saint-Florent’. She told me so herself. Well, she didn’t so much tell me…”

    “The who?” Mabel interrupted.

    “I should think they’re in cahoots with the batty nuns we’re on our way to see,” Adeline surmised. She looked at Rosemarie and shrugged. “But what do I know? Pray, do go on.”

    “Valerie wouldn’t tell me plainly, she’s much too clever for that. What she did say is that a group of women have enlisted her to do their bidding and spy among the most powerful echelons of the court. I hadn’t believed her, not really, that she had the queen’s ear and was sent on secret affairs. I didn’t care if the stories she told me were true or not. It was enough that I had someone to confide in and talk about anything with. But now it seems those stories are real and she’s gotten herself in a heap of trouble. I should’ve listened harder to all the things she’d said to me. Now she’s gone off to do god knows what and wants me out of the way. So here I am, out of danger while she lives a life of murderous intrigue and derring-do. I wish to be by her side, fighting for what’s right. It’s not fair being our age, is it? We miss out on everything.”

    “Derring-do!” Adeline snorted.

    “Well then, what do you intend to do with your life?” said Rosemarie, straightening up indignantly. “While away the days knitting daisy chains and pressing flowers in your diary?”

    Adeline let out an offended gasp as Mabel chuckled.

    “There is nothing whatsoever the matter with knitting,” Adeline made known. “It is a most noble pursuit, one which could benefit you more than most, judging by your frocks. And, it’s not a diary. I’ll have you know I keep a daily journal of my travels whilst I’m away from home.”

    Rosemarie couldn’t help but surrender a smile. The girl had pluck and made a valid point. Her dress was soiled and freckled with mud and sorely in need of mending. And anyways, what harm is there in keeping a travel journal? Indeed, it is an admirable way to pass the time.

    Mabel leaned over and pawed around her rucksack. “Well, all right. I’d say it’s time enough for some strong drink. Before you two come to blows, that is.”

    “Strong drink?” the two girls echoed disapproval. Undeterred, Mabel brought out a gourd jug and uncorked it, “To Valerie. May she live fast and die well,” and threw back a generous swig. She savored the kiss of sweet spirits and let out a satisfied sigh, then wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Snuck it from auntie Marie’s cellar. ‘Hair of the dog’, she calls it, but I reckon it’s just apple cider. Figured we could do with a batch for our journey. Care for a sip?” She offered the jug to anyone who’d take it.

    “Mabel! We’re too young!” Adeline protested.

    “So what if we are?” said Mabel, and handed the jug to Rosemarie who accepted it with some reluctance.

    “A sip won’t hurt,” Rosemarie hoped, and raised the jug high, “To Valerie. Until we meet again.” She closed her eyes and took a drink of a concoction that tasted like apple blossoms on a Summer’s day and felt the pleasant warmth trickle down into her belly. The tip of her tongue tingled and her body slumped agreeably. “Delicious.”

    “Give me that,” Adeline swiped the jug from Rosemarie and put her nose to the lip of the gourd and took a dainty sniff, “To Valerie. May she keep her head out of the basket,” and tossed back her hair and took a long, hard drink. As soon as she’d swallowed she winced and slapped a hand over her mouth but to no avail as the emerald red brew coughed out her nose. “Good lord, that’s not cider! It’s brandy!”

    “Whatever it is,” said Mabel, “I very much like it.”
     
  7. izzybot

    izzybot (unspecified) Contributor

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    This is relevant to me at the moment as well, as I've recently lost my mind and started writing something about eight people in close confines who are frequently going to be having discussions involving all of them. It's a bad idea that I'd recommend against anyone else doing if they asked, but ... here I am.

    So, what I've been doing is avoiding tags and beats whenever possible -- whenever I think that the legibility won't suffer from it. Usually it's when two people have a direct exchange, so there's no reason to assume someone else is butting into it unless I say otherwise.

    ^ There's no reason to think that anyone but Dean would be responding here, for example. (I'm not sure how useful this will be sans greater context, but eh.)

    Most of the time, though, that's not an option because there's too much going on. In those cases, I'm trying to use beats as much as possible -- like Dean's action up above.

    I'm also doing inferred 'told' dialogue -- saying things like "everyone murmured in agreement" and "they all introduced themselves again" rather than taking up dialogue space with information that can be told without adding in more tags.

    Another thing I'm trying -- and I'm sure there's a proper term, maybe it's basically a type of beat, I dunno -- is implying the speaker by association rather than stating it explicitly.

    In this bit, rather than tagging Jamie (the speaker) either time, I used a beat that followed off from a previous thought, then gave her an action that implied she'd be speaking next (the grimace).

    With Jamie specifically, I've also given her a Southern accent -- another probably-bad idea :D -- which means that I can get away with not tagging her as stringently as the rest, as she's the only one saying "y'all" and using phrasing like "you been" rather than "you've been".

    I'm personally a fan of said-synonyms -- things like 'objected' up above, and to pull a few other examples, 'asked', 'echoed', and 'admitted' -- so I'm using them possibly more liberally than I ought to because I find repeating 'said' to be tedious. I know to some folks it's invisible, but I like variety. Just be reasonable about it, and still use 'said' a fair amount, or you're just replicating the overload problem.

    This project is fairly dialogue heavy -- it's these eight personalities bouncing off each other, trying to figure out what's happening to them -- but I'm also doing as much as I can (without sacrificing decent pacing) to break the dialogue up with inner monologue and narrative. It's easy to overload on tags and beats when you're in a dialogue-heavy section, but just throwing in a few lines of action or reflection here and there makes it seem less monotonous.

    Oh, and use pronouns whenever you can. When my group splits up in such a way that it's one guy to three women or vice versa, I get to take a break from repeating the one who's outnumbered's name, and that helps.

    I also definitely recommend avoiding epithets -- referring to people as "the brunette" or "the older woman" etc. It keeps you from repeating yourself, but it almost always sounds clunky and weird. That comes with a big Just My Opinion banner. And there are totally cases where it can work -- I think it counts as an epithet to refer to a group as "the men" or "the women" and I've definitely done that to avoid listing names when possible. But IMO if I referred to a group as "the blonds" it would be bizarre. I'd only use a physical descriptor like that if it were relevant -- something like "The taller man was able to easily heft him up".

    So in summary, my personal method of dealing with this terribly ill-advised set-up has been:
    • Use bare dialogue as much as possible.
    • Use beats as much as possible.
    • 'Tell' dialogue where applicable.
    • Use identifying vocal patterns (actually just the one; I wouldn't go overboard and give everyone a tic).
    • Use said synonyms (but not too much!).
    • Break the dialogue up with narrative.
    • Use pronouns whenever possible.
    • Epithets bad (/opinion).
    ... I hope some of that is helpful!
     
  8. Edgelordess

    Edgelordess Member

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    I actually really like this. Do you mind if I use this in my story? (I'll make alterations of course, so I'm not completely plagerising lol) I guess this method requires some more practice out of me. Mabey that will help me get used to things.
     
  9. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Yeah, no problem - I was just guessing about the characterization, though!
     
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  10. deadrats

    deadrats Contributor Contributor

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    I think the key is to not try and do too much (or everything through dialog). Dialog is fun to write, but you can often find better ways to introduce characters and description. You've gotten some good advice here. The one thing I have to catch myself doing is allowing for a piece of dialog to go on longer than it should. I think that's when we tend to think we need to explain more than the dialog is saying, and that's something that can really bog down the conversation at hand.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2018
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  11. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Oh, yes, I hear you! I love writing dialogue, and I can get carried away with it. I'm always having to pare it back.
     
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  12. matwoolf

    matwoolf Banned Contributor

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    I would like to master the art of the Russian novel where there's twelve characters all over the place and it's a nightmare - but you like it. Then by chapter six you know exactly who they all are, and roll on for a thousand pages and cry at the end.
     
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  13. Iain Sparrow

    Iain Sparrow Banned Contributor

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    A final pruning and tightening up of dialogue is usually the last stage of my editing process before moving on to the next chapter.
    It seems to be something that I can only do once the descriptive passages are to my liking. Since exposition and good dialogue are intimately linked, it makes sense to me. Still, it's not always easy cutting dialogue that, while vivid and expressive, carries on a beat or two, or three too long. I also have a tendency to cross that line into cheap melodrama,:) and it sticks out like a sore thumb once I've had time away from the chapter and some perspective has returned. Dialogue tags are still a bitch for me, though. Even the one book I have that focus entirely on tags and phrases is of little help... unless I was writing a romance novel.:)
     
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  14. jannert

    jannert Retired Mod Supporter Contributor

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    Yes yes yes. Cheap melodrama. That was a bugbear of mine with my first draft. Aargh. I cringe to remember....
     
  15. Edgelordess

    Edgelordess Member

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    Interesting, I never heard of that philosophy before. I only taken one creative writing class last semester, so we didn't go too deep when it comes to dialogue. (Not only that I wasn't allowed to make anything longer than 4 pages, which drove me insane) The only writing experience I have is through other people's feed back, and this really helps a lot. :) Not only that, it helps with awkward writers block. (It always happens between intensive dialogue between characters. I don't know why)
     

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