2

Example:

"Roses and a dead body?" Anna wrinkled her fine nose. "I don't see the connection."

"And they came from Paris," I said. "How did it end up here?"

"Yeah. It's a six-hour drive. What kind of nut would travel that long to deliver flowers to a corpse?"

"Maybe the person was already here?"

Carl held up his palms. "Ladies, ladies, slow down. Let's look at the questions one by one."

There are three people in this scene: the narrator, Anna, and Carl. I wrote something like this a while back, but some readers complained that they couldn't tell who was talking in paragraph three (Anna) and four (narrator).

How should I format (e.g. by adding dialogue/action tags) those paragraphs to remove ambiguity and still keep them fast paced?

5

There's no hard-and-fast rule for how often to attribute dialogue, but the general goal is clarity. If readers are finding a section unclear, it should be reworked.

In this example, I'd just add a few more tags.

"Roses and a dead body?" Anna wrinkled her fine nose. "I don't see the connection."

"And they came from Paris," I said. "How did it end up here?"

She frowned. "Yeah. It's a six-hour drive. What kind of nut would travel that long to deliver flowers to a corpse?"

"Maybe the person was already here?" I suggested.

Carl held up his palms. "Ladies, ladies, slow down. Let's look at the questions one by one."

It feels awkward, I know. I think it's one of the reasons multi-person conversations are much rarer in fiction than in reality.

  • Oh good! Show don't tell. – Bookeater Aug 19 '15 at 11:02
  • Yep, this is right. Clarity is key. Brevity is nice to have, but clarity is crucial. I had a scene with over 6 people speaking. I ended up having one clearly "main" character provoking most of the action/saying most of the things, and I think two major supporting characters conversing "a lot". The rest of the characters only chimed in a line here or there. I found being careful of explicitly noting who spoke when I changed from one character to another, but particularly when I went from major to one of the least notable characters, seemed to work well. – Zwi Aug 21 '15 at 16:56
  • In some cases, the reader seen infer at least some lines' speaker from the fact no-one else would say that, or no-one else would say it like that. Be on the lookout for such opportunities, or ways to design characters that create such opportunities. – J.G. Jun 14 '18 at 15:56
2

In a script this is easy as all dialogue is simply tagged. But that comes across rather artificial in a novel.

For this example I'd make it a bit more narrator-centric. Looking back and forth between Anna and Carl, observing and interpreting both gestures, facial expressions and spoken words. Reacting both to the conversation at hand and from the history, likes and dislikes this central person has with both participants.

Making all that explicit in small, casual bits should both make the whole conversation and the character's relations fall into place without hampering speed.

2

One thing that usually annoys me greatly in film is when there is a group dialogue and everybody is practically finishing each other's sentences without any pause. It's like one brain and 3 mouths rattling. The dialogue becomes unreal.

How about having two people talk interactively, until there is a transition to a third person (the camera pans).

Anna and I looked at each other.

"Roses and a dead body?" She wrinkled her fine nose. "I don't see the connection."

"And they came from Paris. How did they end up here?"

"Yeah. It's a six-hour drive. What kind of nut would travel that long to deliver flowers to a corpse?"

I agreed. "Maybe the person was already here?"

Carl held up his palms. "Ladies, ladies, slow down. Let's look at the questions one by one."

1

"Roses and a dead body?" Anna wrinkled her fine nose. "I don't see the connection."

"And they came from Paris," I said. "How did it end up here?"

Anna frowned, her lips a thin sickly line as she looked at the corpse. "Yeah. It's a six-hour drive. What kind of nut would travel that long to deliver flowers to a corpse?"

"Maybe the person was already here?" I asked, giving an suggestion to play on.

Carl held up his palms. "Ladies, ladies, slow down. Let's look at the questions one by one." He sighed and glanced at the corpse again.

  • Hi Csy, and welcome. Please note that we tend to prefer answers that explain why they are correct. Can you Edit this to elaborate on why you feel this is the best answer to the question as asked? Doing so would improve on it. Enjoy your stay! – a CVn Jun 14 '18 at 13:36

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