Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

The writing process, writing advice, and updates on your work in progress
EvelynEhrlich
Posts: 79
Joined: February 13th, 2010, 12:41 am
Contact:

Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by EvelynEhrlich » July 14th, 2010, 1:26 am

Does anyone have tips for writing dialogue among multiple characters (beyond the standard dialogue rules, such as minimizing dialogue tags, etc.) I have a few places in my WIP where three or four characters speak in a scene, and I don't want to litter the page with dialogue tags. Sometimes I include gestures to indicate who's speaking (if it's not otherwise obvious). At the same time, I don't want those pages to look like a play full of stage directions. What do you do to make it work?

User avatar
Holly
Posts: 500
Joined: December 21st, 2009, 9:42 pm
Location: Gettysburg, PA
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by Holly » July 14th, 2010, 3:37 am

#
Last edited by Holly on July 14th, 2010, 6:32 am, edited 1 time in total.

User avatar
Heather B
Posts: 234
Joined: May 23rd, 2010, 7:56 pm
Location: Newcastle - the Australian one.
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by Heather B » July 14th, 2010, 4:28 am

Generally, if your characters have a distinct voice, this isn't such an issue. Otherwise, just try to keep who said what simple. Don't change characters with every sentence and when you do, accompany it with an action. Dialog tags should really only be used the first time a person speaks, if that.
Journey to the Cuckoo's Nest

http://heathermbryant.blogspot.com.au/

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by polymath » July 14th, 2010, 9:50 am

One-on-one or group conversation, narrator reporting or reported viewpoint character, regardless, a conversation between characters involves a reporting central observer dramatically interacting with others in more nonverbal ways than verbal. Tone of voice conveys more meaning than the actual words, but tone of voice is difficult to depict in written words without a lot of widely deprecated bold and italics formating and exclamation marks and dashes and ellipsis points and other punctuation aerobatics. Nonverbal cues--body language--convey the most meaning for actions. Situation context also provides meaning and clues to tone of voice and body language meaning, but is most subtle to depict.

Introspection reporting is not as subtle or difficult to depict as tone of voice. Introspection can convey a lot of meaning and creates the closest narrative distance, which potentially builds the strongest reader rapport.

A reporting central observer interacts with a narrative's meaning space along a continuum of several variable levels: perception to cognition interaction, influencing participant to remote observer, in the moment to after the fact, close narrative distance to remote narrative distance.

Perception reporting expresses action-cause sensual observations. Cognition reporting expresses reaction-effect introspections and actions. Cognitions are often observer value judgments and interpretations of perceptions' meanings. Conversation is as much a cause and effect interaction as other types of dramatic action. Conversation is in the secondmost closest narrative distance, after introspection.

Participant reporting blends viewpoint character perception and cognition observations from an internal, frequently covert narrator. First-person overt narrators notwithstanding.

Remote reporting comes from an external, frequently overt narrator's reporting setting, idea, character, and event perceptions and reporting cognitions thereof. Narrative distance is more remote than reported viewpoint character perceptions and cognitions.

In the moment reporting depicts a conversation or action as it unfolds. Closer narrative distance than after the fact reporting.

After the fact reporting allows for more cognition based reporting, but like remote reporting creates more remote narrative distance.

A key to managing a conversation is to keep in touch with an observing reporter's meaning space without staying fixated on a narrator's third eye. Varying narrative distance and psychic access and motility causally moves perception back and forth from perception out in the landscape to interior cognition. Causation typically originates from external perceptions, then cognition--effect--reacts internally, before reacting externally. The more difficult and sublime effects to depict are autonomous or spontaneous reactions.
Spread the love of written word.

Down the well
Posts: 516
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 3:22 pm
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by Down the well » July 14th, 2010, 10:10 am

Heather B wrote:Generally, if your characters have a distinct voice, this isn't such an issue.
I'm going to pick on Polymath for this one.

No one is ever going to confuse a post by Polymath with anyone else. The syntax, vocabulary, and academic tone of his (assuming) posts make for a unique voice. No dialogue tag is needed to differentiate him from anyone else. The voice alone does it.

If you have that sort of uniqueness in the voice of your characters you probably won't confuse your reader too much by dropping the tags. If the voice of the characters isn't unique enough, though, then you probably will have to insert name tags to keep things straight. Or character action could do it, i.e., he said, brushing his long blond hair out of his eyes. Okay, that's really lame, but you get the idea.

Claudie
Posts: 707
Joined: June 9th, 2010, 3:57 pm
Location: Quebec
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by Claudie » July 14th, 2010, 10:34 am

Sometimes, it's not only voice but what is being said. If you have the stingy character, and the reader knows that, he won't need a dialogue tag to tell it's that character who refuses to buy something. Previous characterization can help distinguish between who is talking.

[quote=Heather B]Don't change characters with every sentence and when you do, accompany it with an action. Dialog tags should really only be used the first time a person speaks, if that.[/quote]

Trying not to change too often is a good advice. Not only is it less confusing, but you don't have to identify who's talking all the time and your dialogue doesn't become crowded with actions.

Speaking of which, it's good to be careful with the actions. They should reflect your character's personality. Plain sighing, nodding and frowning won't cut it if that's all you have, all the time. Giving your characters a few habits (tapping nose when thinking, rubbing the back of his neck when ill at ease, etc.) can work wonders here.
"I do not think there is any thrill [...] like that felt by the inventor as he sees some creation of the brain unfolding to success... Such emotions make a man forget food, sleep, friends, love, everything." -- Nikola Tesla

User avatar
Quill
Posts: 1059
Joined: March 17th, 2010, 9:20 pm
Location: Arizona
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by Quill » July 14th, 2010, 10:35 am

I disagree with the idea that everyone's speaking voice is totally different and unique. I have heard groups of friends speaking, especially teens, where they sounded virtually the same. Call it peer pressure?

Therefore I see nothing wrong with attributions in dialog. Worse is to leave a reader confused. The modern trend to minimalize or eschew tagging can go too far. Ultimately comprehension (communication) is paramount and should trump style.

User avatar
cheekychook
Posts: 685
Joined: May 26th, 2010, 8:35 pm
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by cheekychook » July 14th, 2010, 11:24 am

I have this challenge in several places in my WIP---there are several scene with two couples talking and there is a party where eight people are playing a game and what is revealed in dialogue during the game is important to plot. These were not easy scenes to write because of the number of characters speaking.

I have no idea how many characters you are talking about, how well they know each other, if they're all male, all female or a combination, but there are a lot of things you can do to avoid standard dialogue tags. It's kind of hard to explain the options, but I'll try.

Make sure that you have some sort of action going on at the same time as the dialogue (I don't mean action as in car chase, just action as in something happening that either gives us setting or tells us what's going on during the chat). By starting sentences with info like that you can get an idea of who is doing/saying what without having constant tags. Example:

Bob put a scoop of fried rice on his plate. "So, did you hear back from the interviewer yet?"

Kelly struggled with her chopsticks." No,I hope they call soon."

"Don't hold your breath." Laura twirled a forkful of lo mein. "It took them three weeks to get back to me."

Kelly's mouth fell open. "Three weeks? I'll never make it, this is already driving me nuts."

Dylan put down his beer and reached for a dumpling. "Three weeks is nothing. I wait that long for an answer to pretty much anything I ask Laura."

She turned to smack him, but he ducked out of her reach.

That's a poor, on-the-fly example, just to give you an idea of what I'm talking about---you identify who is saying what but also give a little info about what else is going on so it doesn't seem like you're constantly saying Bob said, Mary said, John said, etc.

If you just want to get the dialogue out I'd recommend writing the scene with simple tags of who is speaking for each sentence....then go back and pluck out any that are unnecessary because it's obvious who's speaking....then go back again and change some of them to describe what the character is doing or to place the action before the dialogue so it's clear who's talking without a direct tag.

I hope this is making sense. I'm tired today. *yawn*
Image
http://www.karenstivali.com

Passionate Plume 1st Place Winner 2012 - ALWAYS YOU
Published with Ellora's Cave, Turquoise Morning Press & Samhain Publishing

User avatar
polymath
Posts: 1821
Joined: December 8th, 2009, 11:22 am
Location: Babel
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by polymath » July 14th, 2010, 11:38 am

Maybe it's me, but I'm conscious of slight behavioral and personality trait differences in close peer cohort interactions. Many of their mannerisms are identical; however, slight differences stand out more profoundly. An out of step soldier marching in lockstep company is most obviously different.

Dialogue said attribution tags, as invisible as they are, can become burdensome when frequently or awkwardly used. An issue comes from giving notice to readers a narrative is an artificial construct. Who's reporting who's speaking? An author? A narrator who readers are closest in rapport and narrative distance with? Or a reported viewpoint character who readers are closest with?

Jill reporting what Jack said and labeling with a said tag when Jane is a reported viewpoint character estranges a narrator and stays close to Jane's meaning space. If a narrator reports Jane heard, saw, said, narrative distance increases and shifts toward the narrator's meaning space.
Spread the love of written word.

User avatar
Remus Shepherd
Posts: 27
Joined: February 1st, 2010, 2:30 pm
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by Remus Shepherd » July 14th, 2010, 12:05 pm

Well, slight behavioral and personality trait differences go back to there being a distinct voice for each character.

But beyond the characters' voices, you can also use the characters' opinions and current interactions as clues. If character A is for the suicide plan, and character B is against the suicide plan, any dialog in support of the suicide plan will be assumed to come from character A.

For a more concrete example, look at cheekychook's snippet of conversation above. The second time Kelly speaks, it isn't necessary to tag her dialog because the reader knows that she's the one waiting to hear about the interview. So the sentence, 'Kelly's mouth fell open' is not necessary in order to tag her dialog there.

(However, note that it's a good tag and conveys a reaction, which lets you do some character building, so you might choose to keep it anyway.)

User avatar
AnimaDictio
Posts: 158
Joined: June 10th, 2010, 1:07 am
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by AnimaDictio » July 14th, 2010, 6:27 pm

Your question makes me think of David Mamet and Aaron Sorkin. They can get away with quick dialogue among multiple characters because the play and screenplay formats are different from the novel.

Nonetheless, this is one of those issues that would cause me to research by checking scenes from novels by my favorite writers. Wasn't there a scene in American Gods where four people had a discussion in a car? How did that go? I'd re-read it and take notes.

User avatar
hulbertsfriend
Posts: 69
Joined: July 13th, 2010, 6:44 pm
Location: New Mexico
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by hulbertsfriend » July 25th, 2010, 3:28 pm

I like polymath's view. A positional observation by one character of the others can work well.

Something outside the window caught his eye as "blank" listened to his colleagues. He looked back when "blank's" observation caused something to click in his mind.


Confused by the path they seemed to be determined to follow, "Blank" moved a few steps away from her friends. "blank2" saw concern in "blank's" eyes.


Weak examples but you get the idea. Use the device to shuttle thought of one to the other.
"All it takes to fly is to hurl yourself at the ground... and miss." Douglas Adams

Omega12596
Posts: 11
Joined: July 27th, 2010, 3:48 am
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by Omega12596 » July 27th, 2010, 4:15 am

I use a combination of action and character 'voice' and cannot, in all honesty, think of a time I have ever used dialogue tags. Not using them was drilled into me when I was maybe nine years old at a young writer's conference. YMMV.

User avatar
Whirlochre
Posts: 7
Joined: December 15th, 2009, 1:45 am
Location: Middleoftheworldeshire, UK
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by Whirlochre » July 27th, 2010, 6:44 am

'I'd rather read dialogue tags,' I said, 'than trawl through a morass of one liners interspersed with descriptions of nervous tics, ways of playing with food, and other distractions far, far worse than any exasperation, ejaculation or gasp.'

My dinner guests convulsed as one, threw up their spaghetti bolognaise, and chirped like sparrows hurled into a blender.
Writer of the Broken Vacuum Cleaner & MacKillop series.
http://www.amazon.com/Steve-Whitmore/e/B0082TENDG
Every doomed cosmos needs cleaning appliance eureka.

Omega12596
Posts: 11
Joined: July 27th, 2010, 3:48 am
Contact:

Re: Tips for Dialogue Among Multiple Characters?

Post by Omega12596 » July 27th, 2010, 2:38 pm

ROFL! If I'd learned the basics of writing from a teacher like you, Whirlochre, I wouldn't be so against tags.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot] and 1 guest