Several people speaking in a conversation at once help

by Jacob
(Fouke, Ar, USA)

Question: I would like some advice on how to incorporate more than two people speaking in the same conversation without saying "He said" and "She said" every time the speaker changes.

Answer: Most of the time it's not really a problem. As a writer, you may grow weary of typing speech tags like "I said" over and over. But it's far less of a chore to read them. In fact, "I said" is largely invisible when you're reading, because your mind learns to skip over it while still taking in the message.

What does annoy many readers is losing track of who is saying what in a conversation because there are not enough clues, such as speech tags. With more than two characters speaking, it's harder to leave tags out.

However, one thing you might consider is using action beats to break the monotony. For instance, if your point-of-view character does something or notices another character doing something, and this action is followed by a line of dialogue in the same paragraph, the reader knows that the character doing the action is also the speaker. This eliminates the need for a "he said" speech tag.

For example...

     I folded my arms and glared at my sister. "Take off my sweater or I'm telling Mom."

     Sarah stuck her tongue out at me. "Go ahead. She'll just tell you to share."

     Just then, my mother's head appeared in the doorframe. "Oh I will, will I?"

Of course, you don't want an action beat with every line of dialogue, because too many beats can become distracting. But an additional benefit to using beats is that they help the reader picture what's happening in the scene.

Another option is to occasionally use a verb other than "said" in your speech tags. This should be used more sparingly, and only when it adds a nuance that isn't clear from the dialogue.

For instance, if you have a line like, "That man has a gun," the speech tag, "I whispered" would convey a different idea about what's happening than "I hollered."

Sometimes, if a character has a very distinct way of speaking, you may not need as many tags for that character. But that's only if the reader can have no doubt--for instance, if the character speaks gibberish or has a severe speech impediment that no other character shares. But this is a device that can only be used in exceptional circumstances.

Comments for Several people speaking in a conversation at once help

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by: Jacob

Thanks for the advice. I will be referring to this often just to keep things straight. Stumbling on this site has been a massive help to my book! Thank you!!!

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