Sunday, March 29, 2009

Scenes with Many Characters

It's so exciting! I'm writing the final chapters of my book--you know, the ones where all the action happens and everything gets resolved. Practically every character in the book shows up for these scenes and well, I keep writing myself into sticky situations.

I find myself trying to turn each scene into a two-person dialogue and ignore the rest of the characters. They're just standing around the room watching. You'll never miss them, will you?

I think I slip into doing this because two characters, even three, are manageable for me. I'm scared of more people. Maybe this mirrors how I am in social siturations, but let's not get into that.

So, I need help. How do you juggle five, nine, fifteen characters in a scene? They all want to do or say something at the same time, but there's not enough room on the page, or in my brain.

I welcome any and all tips, tricks, advice, or thoughts on how to do it. Or examples of writers or books that do it well. How do you avoid making a tangled mess?


Michelle said...

I'd look at the Chronicles of Narnia again. You rarely have scenes in there with only two characters once the story gets going. And there are good battle scenes, if that's what you're writing. (just guessing!)

Sarah said...

Didn't the POV jump a bit in the Chronicles of Narnia? You step into Peter's head, Lucy's head... a very helpful way to handle a scene full of many characters. Of course, there were multiple POV's throughout the story.

If you're still writing from only Annabel's POV, you be limited to who and what she's attending to. I wonder if you could use that to your advantage, though. It would allow you to surprise your readers.

As far as concentrating on one conversation at a time, maybe you could channel your inner busybody. I bet you eavesdrop as much as I do. (I think I was listening to two separate conversations in the auditorium at the Festival of the Book.) If this is your story's climax, I bet Annabel would be aware of snatches of much that's going on.

On the other hand, maybe it would be most helpful for you to write all those single conversations and weave them together in later revisions...

Lisa said...

Michelle, funny you should mention Narnia...I just finished re-reading the Lion, Witch, etc. And yeah, the POV switches from character to character. But still it's helpful to see how a writer conveys that there's a lot going on without actually showing every bit of it.

You only need to hear the clashing of swords and shouts and shrieks to know there is a battle taking place. And really, the battle scene in Lion, W & W is only 2 or 3paragraphs.

For me, the tricky part is figuring out what NOT to write. Because of course, it needs to be a fast-paced scene with minimal description.

I suppose I'll do what I always do: write everything and worry about it during revision.

Jim said...

Lisa, I have some scenes when I have to worry about editing things out but I also have scenes when I can't quite see and here what's going on.
When I can't hear what my characters are saying in a particular scene it helps me a great deal to consider what they are doing. If I can imagine where they are looking or what they're doing with their hands I can more easily imagine what they might be saying.
Start with the aspect of a character that is easiest to picture when you're writing. Plug that in and go from there. If you're like me you might have a couple of lines of a character chewing on her hair and absent-mindedly looking around the room and then, a few paragraphs later, find her sidling into the dialogue with something random and snarky.

Lisa said...

Thanks for the input. (I'm a little late with the reply.) I actually just made my husband enact the scene with me in our living room. "Okay, you stand there, and you're Roy. I'm the dragon machine and I'm coming at you...."

It goes on and on. But it really helped!