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Guest Post—Janice Hardy

Today we have a guest post by author Janice Hardy, whose novel, BLUE FIRE, the second in the fantasy trilogy THE HEALING WARS, hit stores last week. A long-time fantasy reader, Janice always wondered about the darker side of healing. For THE HEALING WARS, she tapped into her own dark side to create a world where healing was dangerous, and those with the best intentions often made the worst choices. Her books include THE SHIFTER, and BLUE FIRE from Balzer+Bray/Harper Collins. She lives in Georgia with her husband, three cats and one very nervous freshwater eel.

Janice Hardy

Wait—Who Said That?

I love dialog. It’s the easiest thing for me to write, so there’s usually a lot of it in my books. When it’s just a few people talking it’s no trouble at all, but I discovered while writing my MG fantasy, Blue Fire, that the more folks I put in the room the harder the dialog is to write.

Wait, let me clarify that.

The dialog is still easy. It’s the keeping everyone straight that makes me want to scream.

Dealing with multiple speakers (let’s say three and up) adds a layer of complexity to a scene. Dialog tags become more frequent because you don’t have the natural turn-taking sequence we’re used to reading. It starts to get clunky, because every line is tagged and way too many he said, she saids get in there.

There are ways to avoid this, however. These are perfect opportunities for a little stage direction, some internalization, and some character building—all while helping your reader keep track of who is saying what.

The Name Game
One of the biggest issues you’re likely to face is having too many names too often, especially if there are more than three speakers. I found that grouping them helped break up the names. For example, two might hold a small conversation within a conversation while the others in the room watched, allowing me to identify them once, and then do the traditional back and forth dialog structure. When I wanted to introduce a new speaker, I let that person chime in, and let one of the others fall out. It becomes almost a round robin of speakers.

Dealing With Dialog Tags

Said isn’t going to cut it after several lines, and there are only so many times you can slip in asked or whispered or even shouted. Combat this by using stage direction or character actions. Let Bob rub his eyes, Jane can pour herself a drink, Sally can run over and close the windows. Not only will this help keep the speakers straight, it gives you opportunities to characterize or show a bit of setting.

Think About Who’s There
Your POV character can also remind everyone that there are lots of people in the room by thinking about them. Internalization can suggest continued conversation without actually showing the dialog. This one can be tricky, because you don’t always want to summarize a conversation, but if you start something like say, an argument, you can let your POV think about it as it continues “off screen” in a “Bob groaned. The girls ignored him and kept screaming at each other” kind of way. They can pick up again by speaking and resuming the conversations.

Things to Watch Out For
Multiple speakers can read awkwardly, so make sure to vary your sentence lengths and rhythms. A lot of short sentences in a row often makes this even worse, and too many long ones makes it easy to forget who was speaking in the first place. Reading it out loud is particularly helpful in these cases. Flip names around so they fall in different spots, move tags from the front, to the middle, to the end of the dialog. Mix up he said with an action tag.

Keep the Reader Updated
The most important thing is to make sure the reader can always figure out who is speaking. If the sentences are short, tags at either end work great. But if the sentence is long, and there are multiple speakers, tagging at the end with a new speaker can jar the reader. They’ll naturally assume the speaker is one of the ones they’ve been following, and might have to go back and re-read when they learn it’s someone else. It’s a good idea to tag those longer new speaker lines first or within a few words so the reader is clear that the speaker has changed.

Multiple speakers take extra work, but sometimes you really need the whole gang there. Keep your eyes (and ears) open for clarity and flow, and everyone will get their say.

Part fugitive, part hero, fifteen-year-old Nya is barely staying ahead of the Duke of Baseer’s trackers. Wanted for a crime she didn’t mean to commit, she risks capture to protect every Taker she can find, determined to prevent the Duke from using them in his fiendish experiments. But resolve isn’t enough to protect any of them, and Nya soon realizes that the only way to keep them all out of the Duke’s clutches is to flee Geveg. Unfortunately, the Duke’s best tracker has other ideas.

Nya finds herself trapped in the last place she ever wanted to be, forced to trust the last people she ever thought she could. More is at stake than just the people of Geveg, and the closer she gets to uncovering the Duke’s plan, the more she discovers how critical she is to his victory. To save Geveg, she just might have to save Baseer—if she doesn’t destroy it first.

BlueFire 72

7 comments to Guest Post—Janice Hardy

  • Great advice and GORGEOUS cover! I frequent Janice's blog, so it's nice to see her over here too. She's always so helpful. 🙂

    Btw, freshwater eel? I hate to say it, but the first thing I thought of when I read that was, "Mmm, I love unagi!" So yeah, I'd probably be nervous if I were him/her too…

  • Janice Hardy

    Thanks! I saw the latest art for book 3 yesterday and I LOVE how it's coming along. The colors are beautiful. I can't wait until I can show everyone.

    I would take offense to that, except my niece says the same thing. (grin) I tell her she's not allowed near the tank.

  • YAY! Great post from Janice! Thanks for these points to ponder, Janice, and thanks Meghan for hosting!

  • Thank you so much, Janice, for a wonderful guest post! And Kristan – I love unagi, too!

  • Janice Hardy

    Glad it was helpful! And thanks to Meghan for letting me stop by 🙂

  • Did you ever find gender coming up as an additional stumbling block? You have a healthy mix of genders in Shifter, but in the manuscript I'm shopping around, I frequently have three male characters together. That pretty much killed "he said" as a useful dialogue tag. I did a lot of stage directions, or, for my POV character, a line of dialogue followed by his additional unvoiced thoughts. Still, it was often difficult.

  • Thanks for this nice info, it's so useful for me.