I have a scene in which my viewpoint character (effectively a manager) is conducting interviews for a role he must fill. Most of the characters he interviews (12 total) will have some impact on the story going forward, and I want to use this scene as a way to quickly get a rough introduction to each of them.

In film, we would likely see these individual interviews as a parallel montage, but that is not a technique that works in prose. Yet, I feel there is little point in showing each of these talks in full.

In a situation as this, what techniques can I best employ to maintain a balance between preservation of detail and pacing?

4 Answers 4


You should be wary of using film techniques in prose fiction. A quick cut works effectively in film but is harder in fiction - introducing and revealing the nature of a character in a short space of time is more difficult in prose than in a medium where you instantly see what they look like, what their posture and mood and speech are. So you could cut directly between interviews/speakers if each is clearly different, using the cuts for juxtaposition, and let them reveal themselves by how they behave, but it's a lot easier in film than in words. You need to make sure the reader is able to identify each person and remember which is which.

One way to approach this might be to not present the interviews, but to present a summary of them. You could have a conversation between the interviewers afterwards, or between the interviewer and someone else. Or have the interviewer writing a report on the candidates. It's up to you whether this is done in a formal way (a detailed report, a conversation with the interviewer's superior) or in a humorous or gossipy way (a conversation with a friend in a bar, a snarky private email, talking to someone while attempting to write a report). If it's a conversation you could intersperse with background info or accounts of things happening.

A lot of this depends on your narration style - if you're doing a dispassionate objective third-person narrator, then you may have to show (not tell) through extracts of each interview, but with a first-person narrator or an epistolary format or a third-person narration that's happy to make jokes/asides/comments, then you have a lot more scope for commentary and providing little sketches of each person that emphasize what the interviewer thinks of them.


I think a good way of handling this could be with line-dividers. Such as an hr tag:

This acts as a clear delineation between scenes without ruining the pacing with a chapter break or page break.

What I would suggest (if you think it would work well with your characters and desired pacing) is having your point-of-view character ask a question, have your first character answer it, then ask the next question. Instead of having the original character answer that question, you switch scenes, have a brief description about the new character sitting in the seat answering the question, then repeat until out of characters.

This might get a little crazy with twelve characters, which is a lot all at once for any reader, but I think it could work if kept short and to the point.

  • I was thinking more along the lines of prose, not layout, but I think I see what you mean. I will play around with it and see if I can get it to flow.
    – Weckar E.
    Sep 24, 2021 at 2:58

A few thoughts:

You could make such an introduction work, but you're right that it would come off a bit redundantly. So here's how I would make a go at this:

  • Playing highlights: Your interviewer recorded the interviews, and is replaying parts of the interviews to decide who's best qualified. Each short play/clip plays on the essential statements of the relevant character, without viewing the whole interview. Thus you can include the parts you want to emphasize without making a boring slog of it.
  • The interviews are dispersed: As each character is introduced, the chapter they are introduced in starts with a flashback or clip play of the interview they had. This would require the characters to be introduced one at a time over several chapters.
  • Group interview: The interview was interactive for the entire group - more like a "get to know you" meeting where all the relevant characters give a brief factual statement about themselves, but more importantly react to the statements of the other in revealing ways.
  • The thing about the 'Playing highlights' option, though, is that you don't need the framing device to justify it. You don't need to say that the interviewer recorded them and is now replaying parts - you can just only include the parts you want (similar to Onyz's answer). Sep 24, 2021 at 6:53
  • 1
    @DM_with_secrets Yes, but that answer was already taken, so I didn't feel the need to repeat it. I suppose I could have added an acknowledgement, but it was late at night here, and I was tired. The OP seemed to like cinematic styling, so it seemed to fit.
    – DWKraus
    Sep 24, 2021 at 12:27
  • Fair enough :-) Sep 24, 2021 at 20:43
  • The interviewer doesn't even have to have recorded them. They could just be reflecting on each candidate (possibly with a short flashback) while they're writing a report or explaining which of them would be most suitable to which job to someone else.
    – Llewellyn
    Sep 25, 2021 at 20:44

Just don't.

A twelve way split-screen in a movie would be fine for a few seconds to show parallel action. Parallel discussions would be horrible.

The only way to make twelve interviews palatable to readers would be in a kind of "Groundhog's Day" format. The interviewer goes through the whole thing with a kind of "been there, done that, when's it going to end" attitude with the interviewer being in the main focus. You'll have to make it really detailed, though, with the interviews being near perfect repeats with the different characters providing (nearly) identical responses to most parts of the interview. The interest would be in the interviewer rather that the characters.

Even then, I think most readers would get bored after just a couple of repeats. I mean, look at the movie "Groundhog's Day." The scene with the radio is repeated just a few times so that you get the idea, then most days start in the middle somewhere.

I think you should introduce the characters somewhere and somehow else. You should also ask yourself if you need twelve characters introduced for later use.

Show an interview or two then imply that more took place. All of your twelve characters are those who made it through the interview. Introduce them to the reader in different ways as a natural part of the story. You can have your main character comment on the interviews in later actions with your twelve characters, or merely recollect parts of the interviews as needed.

You as the author may want to write out the twelve interviews so that you have them in mind as part of your characters so that you can write them consistently and sprinkle information from the interviews into your story.

Do not dump all of that on your readers. Nobody is going to read twelve chapters of background before the story really starts.

For you downvoters:

I was "treated" to a movie last night that tried this very concept. It "introduced" five of its characters in a way similar the proposal in the question.

All five were picked up, one after another, by one person.

  • Drive to where character A is, see character A kick ass.
  • Invite character A to help an old friend with a problem.
  • Character A agrees and gets in the car.
  • Drive to where character B is, see character B kick ass.
  • Invite character B to help an old friend with a problem.
  • Character B agrees and gets in the car.
  • Repeat for characters C, D, and E.

Over half of the movie was just "introduce the characters." It was dumb, it was repetitive, and it was boring.

Once all the characters were collected, they went about "solving" the problem.

  • All of them get back in the car, drive to where informant Z is.
  • Ask questions
  • Kick ass
  • Unknown killer shoots two people (informant and one of the good guys. Always two.)
  • Remaining good guys get back in car, drive to where informant Y is.
  • Repeat for four informants.

That was also tedious and stupid.

Do you want to write a tedious and stupid story?

You're probably wondering why I watched something that I obviously disliked.

The reason is that it was on a German TV show called Die schlechtesten Filme aller Zeiten (in English The Worst Films of all Time.)

The movie sucked (it truly earned its "worst film of all time" status,) but the comments by the hosts of the show were entertaining.

The movie was Kill Squad. It is a really bad movie.

Watch it, and you'll understand why I suggest that you do not use the idea of a repeated scene to introduce your characters - especially since you intend to do twelve of them.

The five in Kill Squad were too much. Twelve such scenes in a row would have your readers chewing off their limbs in attempt to escape the trap.

I'm not a writer. I'm that mythical opposite to a writer - I'm a reader.

I'm telling you things from the standpoint of someone who has read (and bought) hundreds of novels.

As a reader, I'm telling you what I will not buy. I wouldn't even read it if you gave it to me for free. That's how bad the idea is. I might start reading it, but after a couple runs around the same block I'd probably put it down and go do something engaging - like cut my toenails or watch paint dry.

One movie did make this kind of trick work.

That was the original The Blues Brothers movie.

The only reason it worked there was because the introduction scenes were more or less just cameo appearances by well known singers and musicians. The introduction scenes were little more than places in the movie for the musicians to stand while performing a "signature" song.

  • "Nobody is going to read twelve chapters of background before the story really starts." Sure, and that's why OP is asking for some other way to do it. I don't think they were ever proposing a chapter per interview. Sep 25, 2021 at 17:45

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