Re: How to best write discussions with a lot of participants?

#1
OK, Let's assume you are in a part of a story where you have to write a discussion that has a lot of people contributing - something like a guild planning meeting with twenty adventurers or so.

What options are there to write down those speeches in such a way that the reader isn't confused as to who said what or what's going on?
(assuming that "use fewer characters" is NOT an option due to the background story and worldbuilding)

1) regular speech writing
This would be prefacing each part of what is said with a sentence of who is talking
Example:
To this X answered with "..."
"..." interjects Y
Z does not aggree and objects "..."

My problem with this is that if used too much those filler sentences become repetive and boring, and are stilll easily overread.
Especially if the discussion is longer (which it would be to get a lot of people involved).
An advantage would be the option to describe emotions or "color" the speech with side-information.


2) chat-type writing
Example:
X> "..."
Y> "..."
Z> "..."

This style of writing would be simple and to the point - but it would also be at least partially destroying immersion and can cause people to loose the flow of reading.
And it would be completely ignore options to tell what the people are doing while talking.


3) artistic signs
coloring speech differently, or giving different people different symbols to indicate speech patterns and so on.
Example:
"..."
"..."
<<...>>
*...*
"..."

This is the worst option in my opinion (although some people here on RR have used this) because it requires the reader to remember which code is who as well as limiting the number of participants (there can't be more than 10 different colors to use without detection problems between green1 and green2)


Which solution would you prefer as a reader of stories with many multiple leads? Are there any other ways how to do this that you can share?

Re: How to best write discussions with a lot of participants?

#2
Never do 2 or 3 unless the rest of the story makes heavy use of those.... and maybe don't do those at all anyway. They smack of amateur writing.

There is no specific technique to making it easier; you've more got to just practice and make a craft of it. Don't just focus on the speech; focus on the actions as well. While A and B are in a back-and-forth, what is person C doing in the background? Person D wants to interject, but can't find a place to jump in, and you can see that in the prose. Much like a play or movie would do, you have to "block" all your characters descriptively so that the reader has a clear picture of all the chat participants even when they aren't talking. Then when they DO talk, it won't be confusing because you'll have their actions backing it.

Then, I would try to limit any given exchange to 2-3 people at a time; like in a tag-team wrestling match, if Person A, B, and C are talking, once D jumps in, you'll pull B out for a bit. Then, A and D start talking to each other, and everyone else falls away too. It's not just one conversation; it's 50 mini-conversations stitched together.

Re: How to best write discussions with a lot of participants?

#3
Yeah, I would absolutely avoid any sort of chat-style dialog unless the characters are in an actual chat room. I would also avoid any diversion from ordinary grammar rules (dialog in regular quotes) unless you consider your work to be highly experimental. Even then, it won't guarantee that your readers won't complain.

Other than that, this sort of scene really just takes practice to write. It also helps to read works from other authors who do larger political scenes/meetings. Game of Thrones, Stormlight Archive and the Lightbringer series all come to mind here. And for Lord of the Ring's, there's at least the Council of Elrond scene which easily had over 20 participants.

If you don't have time for that much research, TV/movies can help too. For example, try watching the Council of Elrond in The Fellowship of the Ring. Notice how the giant meeting is broken up into several smaller dialogs. Elrond addressing everyone, Aragorn and Boromir, Boromir and Legolas, Boromir and Gandalf, Frodo addressing everyone, etc. Once you think of this larger conversation as several smaller ones, it's no different from writing regular dialog.

Sure, certain words are going to get repetitive, but that happens in professional writing too. If you open a dialog-heavy chapter from one of your favorite books, you might see the word "said" 100+ times. (Even once you account for the writer substituting the dialog tags for character actions.) This is perfectly fine. Readers are going to focus on the actual dialog, and words like "said" and "asked" will be mostly invisible to them.

Re: How to best write discussions with a lot of participants?

#4
Andar Wrote: OK, Let's assume you are in a part of a story where you have to write a discussion that has a lot of people contributing - something like a guild planning meeting with twenty adventurers or so.

What options are there to write down those speeches in such a way that the reader isn't confused as to who said what or what's going on?
(assuming that "use fewer characters" is NOT an option due to the background story and worldbuilding)


Please also note that "writing down speeches" is not the only way to describe a discussion. It even often is a very bad way.

Writing a story in text form as narration is something completely different than writing a script for a play or movie. In a play you have so much more than only the text of what is said. You have body language, facial expression, visual reactions even of those not currently speaking. Even for a audio play you still have intonation and thus emotions that a pure text itself does not contain. On the other hand a narration (especially for a first person narrator or for a narrator jumping into the heads of characters in any way) can express thoughts, reactions or even only the focus and the perspective of a character in that scene.
Just writing down what was said as direct speech is in some way the worst of both worlds: You lose all the visible or audible cues and cannot do any of the perspective of a narration. So it is quite limited.

For an author, it can be very hard to not get sucked into the "dialogue only" trap. Especially if you write by imagining the scene, immersing into it and letting your characters act it up, you end up with some movie scene in your head which leads to writing it like a script for a play. As you see the whole scene in your head, it is easy to forget, that only write down the text and all the other details get lost, though you likely only imagined them.

On the other hand, from a reader perspective, getting described a scene in the form of direct speech does not need to be bad. If the story manages to immerse you into the story and its characters enough, that in your head the way how this text is spoken and how the characters act in this scene appears from just reading the text, then it can be glorious. No descriptions of physical actions or intonations getting a chance to remind you that you are only reading a text, no differences between your imagination and the author's imagination disrupting anything here as all but the text is from your imagination, not the author's.

Back to the author: If you write direct speech, you have to wait till your readers are immersed into the story enough, so that their imagination can fill in the gaps. This is usually quite hard. Especially if you want to keep more than just the most ardent fans to keep reading the story. For those immersion will often be easy and they might not even be able to imagine, what a drag reading the chapter became all the other readers. It's twice as hard for a web serial (which stories published on royal roads formally are, unless all the chapters are published at once): Because every chapter is a fight to keep the readers remembering who your characters are and how the relate to each other. So getting them immersed into the characters deeply enough that they can enjoy passaged of direct speech is twice the effort.

Andar Wrote: 1) regular speech writing
This would be prefacing each part of what is said with a sentence of who is talking
Example:
To this X answered with "..."
"..." interjects Y
Z does not aggree and objects "..."

My problem with this is that if used too much those filler sentences become repetive and boring, and are stilll easily overread.
Especially if the discussion is longer (which it would be to get a lot of people involved).
An advantage would be the option to describe emotions or "color" the speech with side-information.


While something feeling repetitive is often a good sign for something missing, it is important that repetition itself is needed. While there are many tricks out there to avoid repetition, many of them can make a bad text much much worse.

As you write, they can easily be overread. The human brain is very good at filtering out redundant information. Human language is full of redundancy because humans need that to function to some extent. The nice part about that is that  

If a couple of people are discussing something, then their names will appear again and again. This is because there are no new people entering the discussion. Many already hard to read discussions in stories on RRL became almost totally unreadable for everyone but the author and some of the hardest fans because some author had the 'bright' idea to suddenly describe the participants differently. Never ever do that for a discussion with more than two chracters (unless you really really know what you are doing and are ready to still lose many readers. Hint: it feeling repetitive is no proper reason at all).

They way to get this done properly is usually to take a step back. Get away from trying to transcribe the movie scene playing in your head into text and 'filler sentences'. Try to determine what you actually want to tell the reader. Then think about how that can be transported and then insert the dialogue into that. (Don't take the dialogue as the bones and try to fill it with flesh, that will only result in a rotting skeleton. First do a proper skeleton and then add the dialogue as flesh to make it walking.)

For this variant line breaks are your ally. Put one of them between anything about different characters. It might not look that nice, but helps readers a lot. But avoid them wherever the character does not change.

Andar Wrote: 2) chat-type writing
Example:
X> "..."
Y> "..."
Z> "..."

This style of writing would be simple and to the point - but it would also be at least partially destroying immersion and can cause people to loose the flow of reading.
And it would be completely ignore options to tell what the people are doing while talking.


If someone claims that this form destroys immersion, then I won't believe them that it is because of this. This is so uniform that the brain can perfectly filter it out.

The problematic part is indeed that this limits to the pure text even more than the previous form.
If the reader has enough immersion, then the text will suffice. If they lack immersion, they can at least easily follow the discussion. It can easily feel like reading the script of a play/move instead of a narration, though. But if you mostly do direct speech is that is what you write, to the feeling is not so much because of the form but because of the content.

If you are set on having only direct speech and you have qualms about using this form, there is always the possibility to either move the discussion to some actual form of chat room or to have some protocol of the meeting done (and your chapter then being the protocol of that meeting).



Andar Wrote: 3) artistic signs
coloring speech differently, or giving different people different symbols to indicate speech patterns and so on.
Example:
"..."
"..."
<<...>>
*...*
"..."

This is the worst option in my opinion (although some people here on RR have used this) because it requires the reader to remember which code is who as well as limiting the number of participants (there can't be more than 10 different colors to use without detection problems between green1 and green2)


Colors are always almost a bad sign (and ten times that if there is only one character but multiple colors, but I digress). Though they are not bad on their own but they are a symptom. They show that the author has either given up to properly denote characters or realized the text was too hard to understand without them. And that is the problem. Colors cannot solve that problem, so the colors itself are easy to blame.

Re: How to best write discussions with a lot of participants?

#5
First, in such discussion, where lots of people come together, it is rare that all of them will talk. Only a few would actually do the discussion and others would give support, agree, react, etc. This is because in a situation like this, people would group themselves into factions and a person would spearhead each group. A discussion of 20 or even hundreds of people are actually just discussion between a few groups (mostly just two groups).

Second, in a discussion like this, there would be a head, someone who directs the discussion. Maybe the leader, an elder, the chief, etc. They control the flow so that it would not devolve into chaos, and if did devolve into chaos, bring it back in line. In some cases, it is them so decides everything and the other people might not be actually able to say anything but agree.

I think the problem here is that you want all twenty of them to talk whenever they want. Of course that would be confusing! No one could keep track of that many people.

Though, if you really want each of them to talk/contribute, there is one thing you can do. Group the characters. Usually there will be a group of two or three and there might be an arbiter as well. Then each character would then talk in the support of their group. Well, it might still be difficult to keep track of individual characters but it is easy to keep track of each group and that is enough to keep readers from being confused.