3

My story has a cast of 59 characters, 25 of which are either protagonists or antagonists. Nine of these characters are very well-rounded and important, and most make an appearance at least once in each book.

Though not the MC, my favorite character of the entire series is one of these nine and is extremely important to the plotline. Long story short, he fakes his death later in the book.

Because I have such a large cast, the main problem I run into is that I have too many characters in one place talking at once and they all have something to say, like on a group chat with twenty people and it all comes out choppy and disorganized.

These nine, important characters are all surprised because they thought my favorite character was dead, and of course, they all have something to say about it, so, what are some tips for writing dialogue when you have a large group of characters in one place?

4
  • Hi Hello.There! I just edited your question. I wanted to apologize for cutting out so much detail, your story sounds quite interesting, but it was simply clogging up the actual question. I hope you understand. Please let me know if you think I cut out anything important. – Nai45 Mar 29 at 18:55
  • 3
    You made your bed, you lie in it. The easiest approach: don't. Don't write yourself into a corner, don't create situations you can't write. It's going to be a mess. Don't allow the events to escalate into this mess. – SF. Mar 30 at 12:06
  • 2
    If that many people are talking all at once, then no one will be heard. Try to go to a restaurant where 25 people are having private conversations - it's a total jumble, and you can barely hear the ONE person you're talking to. The only ways to make it work are to 1.) subdivide the conversation into private conversations, or 2.) Have it be like a public meeting where someone is hosting, picking who talks at a given time. The first will be confusing, the second sounds like a public meeting about tax proposals. Better to limit the cast of speaking characters and not confuse your readers. – DWKraus Mar 30 at 16:10
  • While all the characters might feel they have something to say, you have to decide whether the reader needs to hear every word of it. If people are talking over one another no one who is listening can follow everything that is said. Perhaps that’s how you can think of the reading experience, describe a cacophony with a few key statements being intelligible. – Spagirl Apr 14 at 13:18
3

Short answer, is you don't include everyone's dialogue.

While it's tempting to have every character have their moment of pride where they get to talk, it's far more common that they react instead. One of them gasps, another places her hand on her heart. Another faints, one of drops their mouth...

The Malazan Book of the Fallen might be something to read to give you an idea about how to handle many characters. The entire series (10 books, ~11'000 pages) has a cast of about 1'000 characters (!), so in the course of reading it (especially the first book), it might give you an idea about how to write dialogue and settings with many, many inputs. The jist of it, is that you group characters together who have dialogue with themselves, and split the groups up by the relationships of your characters.

Either way, it's not easy. Make sure you give each character plenty of time to express what they want to express, and refrain getting to the punchline, in order to make each character as important as you want them to be. This way the reader will care about each person, as much as you would like them to.

3
  • OP's problem is different and more specific: "What do I do if I have twenty people in the room and they all want to speak?" Your advice seems to be: "Don't let twenty people in one room all at once." – Alexander Mar 29 at 23:48
  • 1
    Not exactly; In series mentioned, this doesn't happen (very often). One scene involved 10 characters or so speaking, though many of them only had one line. The reason it worked, was because the conversation was supposed to be messy and more or less incoherent. You can have 10 characters engage in the same conversation, but it is questionable whether the reader will understand what is going on. Besides, during any group of 10 people, IRL, many people don't speak. So it might seem artificial if all the characters spoke. – Michal Burgunder Mar 30 at 6:05
  • So, "let all people in the room, but keep them on mute"? :) – Alexander Mar 31 at 17:20
1

Timeline overlap. A scene can be wrote numerous times from different perspectives giving rise to different voices. So a banquette with event x at the end, could have six or seven repeated timelines with different points of view up to the event x.

A good example of this was Milan Kundera's 'Unbearable Lightness of Being'. IIR he even had one section where he repeated the scene from the pov from the dog.

Barbara Kingsolver did this to some degree in the Poisonwood Bible, each chapter changed its first person perspective among characters and has some timeline overlap.

0

The way I see it, you'd have to structure this rather rigorously. Perhaps organize their conversation into chunks, maybe even separate chapters?

For example, focus on the interactions between 3 of the characters first. Occasionally 2 other characters chip in but only for a few lines, just to remind the readers that other characters are, indeed, present. And then on a separate section, write about how 5 of the characters discuss it, and occasionally have the first 3 chip in along with 2 other characters who haven't contributed yet, and so on.

In short, kind of group them based on their reactions, particularly those that tend to interact with each other more (I mean, out of 20 there probably is a group of 3 that argue all the time or a group of 5 who just mimic each other). If length is the concern, you could dwell on the first "chunk" of characters in a few paragraphs, then move on to the next chunk, all within the same chapter. Really depends on you. If you really want them all to have their say, give them ample spotlight by making a moment specifically for them rather than just dumping their reactions with the others'.

I'm no expert though and haven't written any proud-writer-moment piece in a while sooo I'll just end by saying it's up to your discretion. All the best!

0

Center the Action on the Purpose of the Scene

Every scene should have conflict, and every important scene should have character growth. Those things are the reason you write the scene, and why you keep it, when you get to editing.

Find the character who has the most (or most important) conflict and/or growth, and stick close to them.

Example

If you have a character that has faked their death, there are lots of possible reactions. Some characters might be happy their friend is alive, while others are angry because they were deceived. Some characters might simply be shocked.

Team Happy and Team Deceived are already set up for conflict - the first group is ready to accept the "dead" friend back into the fold, while the second is distrustful and wants nothing to do with them.

Perhaps one character had been uncertain about how they feel about the trickster character, and this action cements the relationship: your POV character for this scene will decide that they Do Not Trust the "dead" friend. This is your character growth.

Result

Now, knowing that this scene is about the conflict between Team Happy and Team Deceived, and that your POV character is going to decide that the trickster is unreliable and bad, it should be much easier to decide who gets the spotlight.

Only spend time and effort and reader attention on things that play into those goals. Other character's reactions may be glossed over or ignored if they don't work towards the themes you've chosen.

You can always have a different character reflect on the moment in a later scene if you find you've left something important out - make this scene work first, and then fix the later one when the time comes.

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.