Anna Campbell is back with another keeper post, a primer on setting the stage for a crowd scene.
Hello Romance University girls! Thanks for having me here as your guest again. Today, I want to talk about writing scenes with large numbers of characters.
I love writing those scenes.
However, a couple taking the journey into love inevitably also belong to families and societies. To my regret, frequently those other people enter the story. Even more to my regret, at least once in every book, I seem to have to write a scene with a cast of thousands.
I hate writing those scenes.
In my 2015 indie novella, Three Proposals and a Scandal, the climactic scene involved nine speaking parts and various servants, and it was a complete nightmare to structure. I had to wrangle the promised three proposals, the heroine’s father disowning her, the bad guy getting his comeuppance, and a cast of characters from previous Sons of Sin books ushering everything to a joyful conclusion.
It was like juggling twenty priceless Meissen plates – when catching things isn’t my forte!
Anyway, after long experience of struggling with big group scenes, I returned to a few tried and true techniques to keep me on track.
Firstly, I play choreographer. I work out where everybody is in the physical space and where they move – avoid your cast standing still like flowerpots. Keep your scene dynamic. A great trick is to draw a rough diagram of the scene. That saves Murgatroyd speaking up near the fireplace, when three paragraphs ago, he was sitting on the sofa. It also saves having six people with him on that same sofa. Make note of characters’ actions, so if someone stands up, they’re not standing up again on the next page.
Regularly remind readers who’s present and where they are. Mention a character’s physical position every page or so. If the writer is likely to forget someone’s there, believe me, readers will! An easy way to do this is a character direction with dialogue. To give you an example from 3 Proposals:
“He didn’t seduce me,” Marianne protested, turning frantically to the Hillbrooks. She wished she could tell whether Elias believed her, but he didn’t look up from the fire.
That places Marianne, the Hillbrooks, and Elias in a mere two sentences.
Make sure everyone has a chance to react to events, so when Tommy Trueheart saves the day (in this case, Elias Thorne), he’s not the forgotten man. It’s also a good idea to define what each character wants to achieve in the scene – remember secondary characters are heroes in their own stories. This helps you keep a grip on conflicts and emotional currents.
It’s important to keep the reader connected to the main characters. Point of view issues obviously come into play, but principal characters can respond with expressions, body language, or dialogue, even if we’re not inside their heads. In this scene in 3 Proposals, there was a danger the antagonists might completely dominate. The focus needed to stay on Elias and Marianne, despite all the drama exploding around them! I did that by frequently describing their reactions to what was happening.
I hope these hints help you to wrangle the seething masses. This scene in Three Proposals and a Scandal was more challenging than usual, but all these techniques have come in handy when I’ve had more than three people on the page.
Do you have any techniques you use to help you control large numbers of characters on the page? Do you like writing these scenes?
WINNING LORD WEST – April 2016
All rakes are the same! Except when they’re not…
Spirited Helena, Countess of Crewe, knows all about profligate rakes; she was married to one for nine years and still bears the scars. Now this Dashing Widow plans a life of glorious freedom where she does just what she wishes – and nobody will ever hurt her again. So what is she to do when that handsome scoundrel Lord West sets out to make her his wife? Say no, of course. Which is fine, until West focuses all his sensual skills on changing her mind. And West’s sensual skills are renowned far and wide as utterly irresistible…
Vernon Grange, Lord West, has long been estranged from his headstrong first love, Helena Nash, but he’s always regretted that he didn’t step in to prevent her disastrous marriage. Now Helena is free, and this time, come hell or high water, West won’t let her escape him again. His weapon of choice is seduction, and in this particular game, he’s an acknowledged master. Now that he and Helena are under one roof at the year’s most glamorous house party, he intends to counter her every argument with breathtaking pleasure. Could it be that Lady Crewe’s dashing days are numbered?
Bio: Anna Campbell has written ten multi award-winning historical romances for Grand Central Publishing and Avon HarperCollins and her work is published in seventeen languages. Her most recent full-length novel is A Scoundrel by Moonlight, released April 2015 from Grand Central Forever. She’s currently working on the Dashing Widows series of e-novellas, with Winning Lord West (book 3) out on 30th April. Anna lives on the beautiful east coast of Australia where she writes full-time.
- Falling in Love on the Page: Writing Convincing Romantic Relationships by Anna Campbell
- Anna Campbell on Writing the First Kiss
- Anna Campbell on the Lure of the Familiar
- Moving on Up: Writing the Next Book with Anna Campbell
- An Interview with Author Anna Campbell