14

In a school setting, what is a way to allude that a school is full of students, without making new characters or overusing pre-existing ones?

A school is the main setting of a book. The main and secondary characters majorly consist of students. In classes and school gatherings, I assume it would be overwhelming to always refer to a new character, or monotonous when referring to a pre-existing character, when commenting on the buzz of the environment or the reactions of students in the same room/area. In this sense, is it better to be general?

For example, a school assembly is occurring. The main character walks in, examining the scene. The aim of the text at this point is to comment on the various behaviours of the students in that environment, in order to discuss the variety and buzz of the students in the school. At this point, new characters will have to be introduced. It would be repetitive to talk about other main/secondary characters who are in the assembly hall as mentioning them would show no variety at all. Of course, when the main character decides to go sit with their friends (who are other main/secondary characters), it would be appropriate to mention them again.

It could look something like this:

Suzy, who was drawn in by the bustle of her chattering peers, timidly walked through the entrance passage of the assembly hall and into the large room. Behind her wisp of hair, she inspected her surroundings. Among the crowd of students was Rob, a red-head with a troubled uniform, who rest his feet atop the empty chair in front of him. Though the room was full of astir teenagers his voice was distinct and high, squawking louder than the rest about cars and rocket fuel. To the right of the room sat piercingly-blonde Georgia among her flock of clone-like friends. She, though very opinionated, was abnormally quiet for such a lively space.

An alternative to this would be just to sketch, in general terms, the busyness of the room. This could be done by referring to students without providing them a name, or talking about the group of students in a broad manner.

Take the previous scene, for example:

Suzy, who was drawn in by the bustle of her chattering peers, timidly walked through the entrance passage of the assembly hall and into the large room. Behind her wisp of hair, she inspected her surroundings. Among the crowd of students a red-head with a troubled uniform rest his feet atop the empty chair in front of him. Though the room was full of astir teenagers his voice was distinct and high, squawking louder than the rest about cars and rocket fuel. To the right of the room sat a piercing blonde among her flock of clone-like friends. She looked abnormally quiet for such a lively space.

And further:

Suzy, who was drawn in by the bustle of her chattering peers, timidly walked through the entrance passage of the assembly hall and into the large room. Behind her wisp of hair, she inspected her surroundings. Among the crowd, students talked in a lively manner, some about their weekends and others about rocket fuel. A distinct amount sat silently, back sunken into their red seats, awaiting the teachers to commence the assembly. Suzy couldn't help but believe these students thought such an event was a waste of time.

The last example does change the scene quite a bit, but it allows for the reader to see the whole room, rather than a few students in the room. However, this method does remove the authenticity of the school, especially since such a setting has many situations where many students will be in the same room at once (eg. classes, assemblies, sports days, etc).

I'm worried about creating new characters in such scenes as there is a high chance they will probably not be mentioned again, which can confuse the reader as to why they were included in the first place.

TL;DR – What would be the best way to continue to refer to students, who aren't main/secondary characters, in order to authenticate the 'size' of the school? Would it be best, in some cases to create new characters? Or would it be better to be general about these students and focus more on the main characters in that environment?

Thanks!

  • 5
    I would recommend you read Harry Potter, as Rowling deals with this exact problem. Also, I love your description of Georgia's friends as 'clone-like'. Great description. – Thomas Myron Jul 14 '17 at 18:31
  • 1
    Completely off topic, but I love the sentence,"Behind her wisp of hair, she inspected her surroundings. '. – Joe Jul 19 '17 at 5:41
  • For more ideas read To Sir With Love, and/or Lord Of The Flies. FWIW I like the second sample, but that's an editing question. – paulzag Jul 27 '17 at 5:54
13

If a character knows the people in a crowded scene, they think of them by name, which indicates to the reader that they are in familiar surroundings. If they don't know the people in a scene, then they will tend to notice some prominent feature or action they are performing.

If you don't name the individual students that she notices, that tells the reader she is in an unfamiliar environment.

Think about walking into a restaurant looking for a party of friends you have agreed to meet. You look around the tables of people you don't recognize. You notice very superficial things about each. Business suit. Three blond kids. Tatoos. Purple spiky hair. Seen and forgotten in an instant.

They you see your party and immediately you see their faces, their names come to mind, you don't really note what they are wearing or anything else superficial (unless there is something really out of character), because you are seeing them, your friends, your colleagues, your classmates. (Even your enemies, if they are well known to you.)

So, if your character walks into a room and sees suits and spiky hair and tattoos, they are in a room full of strangers (no matter what you might say to the contrary). If they walk into a room and see people whose names they know, they are in a familiar space. It really is not about whether your readers will remember these characters, is it about placing your character accurately in the world they are entering.

  • Though in a school setting there can be a lot of faces that you see regularly without knowing the people wearing them. Less clear cut. – Spagirl Jul 16 '17 at 20:00
  • 2
    +1 but I would add that it also strongly depends on the character -- some people are highly social and learn the people around them immediately. Others can go years without learning classmates' names. – Chris Sunami Jul 17 '17 at 17:27
  • 1
    @ChrisSunami, true, and that again points to the decision being driven by being true to the character, since the reader will interpret the character based on their reaction. – user16226 Jul 17 '17 at 17:46
  • @MarkBaker I think it's already implied in your answer, but it could stand to be made a bit more explicit. – Chris Sunami Jul 17 '17 at 18:32
5

This is why the clique system is such a wonderful tool for authors. For any group that tends to hang out you only need to ever name one or two of the most prominent members, and then describe actions of those groups by reference to those members. Compare:

"Harold, Mike, Jules, Ron, Gregor and Paul were being rowdy as usual"

"Harold and his cronies were being rowdy as usual"

Because, for better or for worse, schools tend fall apart into groups. Use that.

  • Good point, but seems more like a comment than an answer. – Joe Jul 19 '17 at 5:47
  • @Joe Not sure why you think that? I gave them a method of dealing with their problem, did I not? – Weckar E. Jul 19 '17 at 6:56
  • Yes, but it only one small (useful) technique, not a general solution or a pointer toward one. – Joe Jul 19 '17 at 7:30
  • @Joe I believe it is all you need for the given setting. We'll just have to agree to disagree. Not every answer has to provide all the options, after all. – Weckar E. Jul 19 '17 at 7:33
3

If they won't be mentioned again, it's not worth giving them a name - so your first example would be somewhat wasteful. The reader doesn't need to know that the redhead with an aggressive attitude is called Rob (and maybe it's realistic that your character, Suzy, doesn't even know him by name - exspecially if she is in a large school). Same goes for the blonde.

Like the extras in a movie, they need to be there - but sketching just a bunch of details for them is enough. Of course as you realized it's probably better to name them if you plan to make them appear again at a later time. The group of clone-like blondes could be, for instance, interesting to mention again - but that's maybe just because I like the image you used.

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.