Posted On May 4, 2016 by Print This Post

This Crowded Life – and Why That’s a Pain in the Neck by Anna Campbell

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.

Anna Campbell 43970006One of the lovely things about writing romance is creating intense, intimate scenes (not just the steamy bits!) where characters reveal their souls.

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 standingThree Proposals and a Scandal 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 WestWINNING 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…

Passionate persuasion!

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?

Anna’s Dashing Widows series, Winning Lord West, Tempting Mr. Townsend, and The Seduction of Lord Stone are available at: AmazonBarnes & Noble, and Smashwords.

Tempting Mr. Townsend

The Seduction of Lord Stone











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.

To learn more about Anna, visit her website or connect with her on Facebook and on Twitter.

Similar Posts:

Share Button

Scene Construction


10 Responses to “This Crowded Life – and Why That’s a Pain in the Neck by Anna Campbell”

  1. I love the choreography techniques you’ve described, Anna. As a very early days starting out author, I can see myself drawing scenes for even a few characters in one place at one time.

    Posted by Shelagh Merlin | May 4, 2016, 4:56 am
  2. Good wakeup call for me. I’m not writing a romance but my WiP does involve the lobby of an inn. Obviously, there can’t just be the protagonist and the one person she talking to, at least not every time in that setting. Putting some other people in moving around will deepen the sense of realism. Thanks.

    Posted by Glynis Jolly | May 4, 2016, 7:58 am
  3. Great post. I loathe writing crowded scenes and your tips were quite helpful.

    Posted by Mercy | May 4, 2016, 8:51 am
  4. I’ve written at least one scene in each book that takes place in a crowded space or where multiple characters are involved and speak. Even though I can picture them all in my minds eye, it’s hard to say if I’m conveying who’s there and where to the reader.

    I like your suggestion of playing choreographer and diagramming the scene. I’m going to give that a shot for my next big crowd/multiple voices scene.

    Posted by Anne Hagan | May 4, 2016, 1:04 pm
    • Annie, so glad this was helpful. I’ve had to develop all these techniques because crowd scenes are difficult for me too. Especially when, as you say, it’s all clear in your own head even if not on the page! Good luck!

      Posted by Anna Campbell | May 4, 2016, 3:16 pm
  5. Hi Anna,

    Yesterday was crazy, so I’m late to respond.

    I actually enjoy writing crowd scenes, so your tips are ubër useful.

    I’ve always looked forward to reading the crowd scenes in your books, especially the repartee among the characters. After reading this post, I know why those scenes read so well. Thanks for sharing your secrets!

    Posted by Jennifer Tanner | May 5, 2016, 4:28 pm

Post a comment

Upcoming Posts





Follow Us