When 2 or more characters speak in unison you can generally do something like this

"awwwww, she's so cute!" the girls said in unison in near perfect harmony

but what about when the line is only slightly different

Person 1: but i'm not...
Person 2: but she's not...

How would this be written?

  • 1
    I'm mostly with Mark Baker on this one. Also, how is the difference in what the two people say important to your story? In everyday life, when two people say something "in unison", what they say is never exactly the same. There is always a slight difference. You don't have to explicitly point that out. So transcribing your character's words verbatim must have a meaning beyond the fact that they say (almost) the same thing. The difference must be important to your story. And I really cannot imagine how it could be. So stop thinking like a tape recorder and translate life into writing.
    – user5645
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 7:30
  • @what the situation that I base the second example from is that before there are subtle but not confirmed hints that person 1 and 2 have and know of their feelings for one another. person 1 is "accused" for having feelings for someone which person 2 knows is not true and not wanting their own feelings for one another publicly know suddenly react and both deny person 1's suspected feelings but realising what they are doing stop. the characters and the reader are given another subtle hint that these 2 are hiding something because of the sudden denial. that's how I have it in my head at least
    – Memor-X
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 8:50
  • 'In harmony' already indicates that two different things are happening, but which blend into a whole. It doesn't mean the same as 'in unison'. I 'm not at all you can be both in unison and harmony simultaneously. merriam-webster.com/dictionary/harmony
    – Spagirl
    Commented Dec 8, 2016 at 13:14
  • Well, I should say that in reality when people tell different things it's hard to understand what is said. This made me want to do the same on paper. But the solution is closer to be an antinovel, of course. Especially when there are two narrators speaking simultaneously.
    – rus9384
    Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 21:37

6 Answers 6


I've seen it written on the same line in defiance of the "new speaker, new paragraph" rule:

"And is this your girlfriend?" Mom asked.
"No, I'm not — " "Absolutely not — " we both protested immediately.


1. Generalise

I ignored their spluttered protests

This works fine when it doesn't really matter what they're saying.

2. Share a dialogue line

"I said, Do you get me?"

"Sir, yes, sir!" they shouted in unison.

3. If the meaning of each is necessary, call it out.*

Use separate dialogue lines, but indicate in the narration that they spoke at the same time.

"Are you two married?"

"Of course not!" I said.

"Yes, for ages!" Marie said at the same time. A puzzled frown creased the big man's brow.

4. Try to avoid this construction

Really, as others have said, this is a spoken word trope. It rarely or never happens in real life, so there's no need to try to pull it into written dialogue either.

  • "It rarely or never happens in real life" Not every day, no but... you should stop by my work place. It can get pretty crazy. Commented Feb 7, 2017 at 23:56
  • 2
    In your last example, I'd suggest: "Of course not!" I said, as Marie blurted "Yes, for ages!" If the reference to unison comes after both lines, I feel it loses the effect because you have already played out the lines separately in your mind. Commented Feb 8, 2017 at 0:03
  • @SCforreinstatementofMonica that is so simple yet so smart and effective. I think this is really an answer on it's own, thank you for that great suggestion.
    – FrontEnd
    Commented Jan 19, 2021 at 2:40

You don't. That is a TV thing. The page is not the screen.

How you tell a story in each medium is an artifice. You are never reproducing all the elements of real conversation, all the halts and tics and repetitions, and all the banalities of everyday speech would be catastrophically boring on the page or on screen. So you create a stylized dialogue, and you use the stylistic tropes of the medium you are writing for. People interrupting and talking over each other works on the screen. It does not work on the page. It just requires too much stage direction, which distracts from the dialogue itself, and the reader does not experience the dialogue as overlapping because on the page the reader can only receive a single stream of words at a time. You just can't reproduce the effect that this would have on screen.

So, you stylize the conversation in some other way for the page. This can include dialogues that the reader can read but would be very difficult for an actor to say. (Harrison Ford is famously supposed to have complained to George Lucas "You can write this s***, but you can't say this s***" (or words to this effect).) The screen is not the page.

So come up with an alternate approach to the dialogue that gets the same message across about character and motivation without having people talk over each other. There are always multiple ways to get the character of a conversation across. You need to choose one that works best in your chosen medium.

  • What you say has a point but there are situations where a writer can really use this in order to convey a point to the reader so I also like Lauren Ipsum's suggestion. I mean If a writer can represent a situation in a good way, then why not? But you say about imitating cinematography and I really feel that with every day the literature is trying more and more to imitate cinema. Have you noticed this? In some situations a reader can imagine what they are reading like motion picture. What is your opinion on this? Is it a positive tendency for a writer to try imitation motion picture? Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 9:17
  • 3
    I'm definitely seeing a lot of it. It seems like people who want to write novels are actually watching TV far more than they are reading novels themselves. (Presumably because you can write a novel yourself, but it takes hundreds of people and thousands of dollars to make a movie or TV show.) A lot of people here seem to be asking how to duplicate common TV effects on the page. I think this is a very bad thing. Screen and page are two entirely different media that work in entirely different ways. The limits and possibilities of each are radically different. Write for your chosen media.
    – user16226
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 13:07
  • 1
    I can see myself fitting this description. I think it is the way I dream and imagine my situations - in a theatrical manner. Maybe it is due to the fact that I watched a lot of TV and films in the past. But I try to be careful about this. In some situations it is good and fits, in other it doesn't. But it is good if you want to tell a segment of the story with a lot of visualizations and to make it easy to read and dynamic. Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 13:36
  • 2
    TV creates visual images directly by showing pictures. Prose creates visual images indirectly by suggestion. They are very different techniques. Be visual in your writing by all means, but use prose techniques to do it, don't try to reproduce screen techniques because they just don't work as well on the page. And remember that while the screen has far greater sensory impact, it is a far less intimate media than the page. Words can go places light and sound cannot. All media are limited. We need to fully exploit the strengths of the media we have chosen or our impact will be muted.
    – user16226
    Commented Dec 6, 2016 at 13:46
  • 1
    @TeddyMarkov and mbakeranalecta, I think it's also a safe bet that many authors these days are writing their novels in a way consciously calculated to maximize the chances for their novels to be adapted for cinema and/or TV, hence the effect you are referring to. I've definitely gotten the "this reads like a screenplay" feeling many times in recent years, and lo and behold some of those novels were in fact turned into movies (e.g., The Martian).
    – Dan Romik
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 1:52

It's not always necessary to actually write down exactly what they're saying. It might be simpler to simply describe that they spoke at the same time, and their general tone, for example:

They both blurted out their protestations, each of them trying to be the one to deny first.

This can then be followed by each of them saying their own line of dialogue, once it has been established that they're trying to say it at the same time, although it may not be required.


I have been struggling with the same issue, and I have found that the best way to handle dual dialogue that is different by writing the main character's line first, then the other character, underneath. Like this:

“So, why are you here all by yourself?”
"My father had one of his associates drive me." I said hastily.
"My father had an associate bring me." she said at the same time. We glanced at each other awkwardly.

  • Welcome to Writing.SE Scarlett Locke! I edited your post a bit. There is a little help bar at the top of the box where you write. Markdown can be a bit weird at first. For example you need to hit Enter twice to make a paragraph or you need to have two spaces followed by hitting Enter once to get a soft linebreak. You can click on "edit" on other posts to suggest edits - or to just have a look at how they did something. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun!
    – Secespitus
    Commented Mar 2, 2018 at 7:48

Here's another option:

“I’m in love with you, Lucy/Natsu!” Then the two of them were surprised to what they just heard from each other.

So the shared part is in common, and the part that's different stands out.

  • 1
    Hi CAV! Welcome to Writing.SE! Please take a look at our tour and help center pages, you might find them helpful. Could you edit and expand your answer to include not just an example, but why you consider your way better than other answers given, and where you've seen such use? Other answers to this question can serve as good examples to how we usually frame our answers here. Commented Oct 24, 2018 at 8:40

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