Let Me Introduce Myself–On Characters Entering Scenes
Picture a scene with several characters at a dinner party. Your character walks into the room, and everyone is already seated. Lively dialogue is underway.
The challenge? Let the readers “meet” every character in the scene and attribute the dialogue to the speaker WITHOUT using info dumps or telling.
While action beats certainly help in this situation, it’s not enough to just say that Jim passed the bread to Susan or Katie crawled into her mother’s lap. If readers don’t know who Jim, Katie, and Susan are, they’ll lose interest. In other words, each character needs their own mini-introduction to establish their relevance to the reader and why they’ve earned their way into this scene. And, they need to be distinct enough that readers can tell them apart.
Here are some suggestions to help write an effective multi-character scene. Yes, it’s a lot of prep work, but the payoff can be fantastic–a lively scene that readers will love.
- Prior to writing, draw a sketch of the room using arrows to show the path of the character as they interact with guests. Include objects that are on the table or in the background that each character could interact with. Consider details like eating utensils, jackets hanging on the back of chairs, large purses, fluted glasses or napkins, pictures hanging on the wall, salt and pepper shakers, floral arrangements, etc. This strategy could also be used in a classroom, shopping mall, or anywhere else the character might encounter a large group of people.
- Plan the entrance of additional characters into or out of the scene. Will a server enter in a few minutes with a plate of food? Will an angry party guest storm out? Will a child change their seat to sit in someone’s lap?
- List each character in the scene with the characteristics that make them unique. Do they speak loud or softly? Are they friendly or reserved? Do they have any fidgeting habits or tics? How are they dressed? What are their physical traits?
- Consider how every character in the scene relates to the main character. Are these people who need introductions? If so, carefully crafted dialogue from the host will help us understand their importance in the scene. Are they people the character will recognize? Deep POV thought might help readers see the personalities and different physical attributes.
- Realize that it’s not essential to introduce every character at once. Give a general statement–the character walks into the room and there are fifteen women at the table. One empty seat. But then, let the scene naturally flow into how it would in real life. The character would meet the women in closest proximity first. Then, the woman at the head of the table might stand and tap her glass. A character close to her might speak, so the character would learn something about that one next.
Two more things–
First, don’t forget how essential it is to include sensory details. A room full of people is often bustling. A character will hear snippets of conversation, but maybe have trouble concentrating on the one happening next to them. There will be a myriad of sounds, smells, and textures.
Second, it’s helpful to give each character a name, even if it’s just a nickname assigned by the character. It can be very confusing to separate “the woman” on the left from “the tall woman” on the right and “the short woman” in the front of the room. Woman becomes repetitive and kills the story.
Good luck writing that next multi-character scene. Do you have more suggestions? Feel free to comment your own.