Just a quick announcement — Liz Flaherty won the Advanced Reader Copy of Anne Clelland’s Historical, Tainted Angel. Liz, you’ll leave her a review everywhere, right?
Charlotte Carter is back, sharing with us her experience as the author of 57 books (no, that’s not a typo!) When you talk, Char, we listen!
I was absolutely exhausted the first time I finished a scene with 5 characters on stage at once, and I hadn’t lost a one. Working with multiple characters can be tricky. It’s easy to confuse the reader. You may have more he said/she said than you’d like. And the mother-in-law sleeping on the couch in the scene may vanish amid all the chatter.
Fortunately, there are a few ‘tricks’ you can use to make the scene work.
1. Characters do not necessarily speak in order.
If you listen to a conversation around the dinner table, A doesn’t speak first followed by B and then C and D. It’s more likely that A speaks, then B, A again, C jumps in and D may be too shy to speak at all. So vary the order of speech and make every bit of dialogue work to move the story forward.
2. Characters can move without talking.
Shy character D (as seen by the Point of View [POV] character,) may get up from the table to get a glass of water, answer the phone or walk out in a snit. Or when D sits down again, she may have something profound to say.
3. When a character does talk, the dialogue needs a tag or action to identify the speaker, often by name, if there are several characters present.
Here are some examples. I’ve included the proper punctuation because, yes, in contests I have seen the punctuation done incorrectly. Ack! Talk about a dead giveaway that the author is inexperienced.
Dialogue tag – “I’m going to the store (comma)” Mary said (comma)
holding up her car keys.
Action – “I’m going to the store (period)” Mary held up her car keys.
“I won’t be gone long (period)”
Action first – Mary grabbed her car keys and said (comma) “I’m going
to the store (period)”
If you’re not sure of the punctuation, check any of your ‘keeper’ reference books.
4. The POV character can interpret what the characters are saying or thinking.
He can see that ‘shy’ D may not be speaking but her face is growing redder by the moment because she is so angry. Meanwhile, he recognizes that Mr. B, her boyfriend, is totally oblivious to how his words are effecting D.
5. Last, but equally important, Don’t lose the baby or the dog or the mother-in-law.
The POV character may note that D glances at the sleeping baby to be sure she’s okay. Or the POV character may, in internal thought, be glad his mother-in-law is snoring away, or he may slip the dog a bite of meat under the table.
Another tip: Introducing a cast of thousands in the opening scene of your book is deadly. You may want to introduce all the major characters – brothers, sisters, cousins – but the reader does not need to meet them in the first ten pages. Start small. Give the reader a chance to get to know and care about one or two characters. Assorted relatives and friends can wait.
What problems do you have writing dialogue?
Happy reading and writing….
Char frequently visits Harlequin.com forums; watch for her comments and writing tips. http://community.harlequin.com/forumdisplay.php/12-The-Writer-s-Circle