If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo, you’ve got three days under your belt and hopefully a healthy head start on that word count. Since you’re in the thrall of writing, I thought I’d give you some things to think about that may make your storytelling easier. Today’s advice concerns dialogue.
Through trial and error, struggling with setting and beats, I’ve come up with an informal rule that’s made my life as a writer a lot easier. It’s really simple – Stick to two characters as much as possible.
Two characters in a scene maintains a much easier dynamic for the reader to follow. The dialogue is naturally going to shift back and forth between the two characters, and the reader knows and understands this intuitively, without the need for beats and other dialogue clues. Character A speaks; Character B responds; Character A speaks, and so on. A third character in the scene constantly demands more attention, specifying who’s doing the talking and how each character is reacting and responding in turn. A fourth character makes the scene even more challenging for the reader, and so on down the line.
Each additional character beyond two compounds the daunting task before the author, who has to create a fluid exchange that imparts what she wants while not confusing the readers. Remember, we always have to assume the reader won’t know who’s going to be speaking next – unless, of course, there are just two characters talking.
As you set up your scenes this month, see if you can limit the characters. Naturally, there will be some times when that simply isn’t possible. But if you’re struggling with the interactions in a scene, try boiling a scene down to two characters, and I bet you’ll find that the writing and the story itself flow a bit more naturally.
Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.
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