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The novel's in first person. I'm working on a scene where there are five people dispersed on different floors of a building, all talking to each other via tiny mics and micro-earpieces. The protagonist too has those. He is inside a room, talking to his group when suddenly, an outsider comes and he is forced to shut up and answer the newcomer.

My question is, does this piece work? Is it correct to portray the dialogues like this? If not, any suggestions?

“You’re on the wrong floor,” a sudden voice said.

I turned around, my follower was here. I took a step back, “I’m sorry?”

“I said you’re on the wrong floor. You were supposed to check the copiers down on the sixth,” he said, gesturing me to come outside, “Come.”

I stood there, confused, voices screaming inside my left ear, “He might be inside the tower. You guys need to back out right now!”— “He’s not here, I’m sure of that.”— “Did you check?”— “Lynn did; Lynn, you did right?”— “I... Yes, Yes I did. Yes.” — “Greg, where the fuck are you?”

“Oh,” I never replied to Brady. I scratched my nose and told the person standing five feet from me, “Yes,” I added, "I've informed my guys. They'll be here any minute now."

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4 Answers 4

up vote 1 down vote accepted

Your dialog itself is fine as-is, though I would suggest not using dashes and quotation marks to separate the infra-paragraph speakers. Unquoted italics may be appropriate, or just list them as quotations.

The technique you're using is treating the distant speakers as a kind of greek chorus, albeit one made up of named characters and not an undesignated mob. It works very well in the flow of the text provided, and is significantly superior to listing each voice on its own paragraph, as common typology demands.

Alternately, you could not list the dialog of those not present, although doing so would require a significant re-working of the text.


On a different note, it's slightly jarring to switch from "a sudden voice" to "my follower". FWIW.

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The first thing I would do is adopt a typography style to indicate radio communication that can be heard in the focus scene originating from somewhere else, and you should have been using it long enough for your reader to recognize what it means when this scene rolls around.

The second thing I would do is recognize the inherent social awkwardness in this scene and highlight it to distract from the awkwardness of the storytelling in this scene.

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Thanks hildred. It's a caper scene. And I've structured the planning scene and the execution scene in a way that certain parts of the planning scene is shown while the execution. I would have used single quotation marks instead of double but I've already used them to show inline planning dialogues in the execution scene. Can you suggest something, please? –  Amin Mohamed Ajani Jan 17 '14 at 17:31
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Italic, mono-space font, Small caps, angle quotes, or any other typographic effect that you are not using else where. –  hildred Jan 17 '14 at 19:05

One thing to note is that people don't (or shouldn't) talk this way on the radio. Each person should have a name, number, or other identifier. You start each message (or at least the first few in each exchange) with the name of the person you're addressing, followed by your own. For instance, when I'm on first aid duty (my tag: Stadium 111), I hear:

Control: Stadium 111, Control. (I.e. Hey, Stadium 111, this is Control.) Me: Go ahead, Control. Control: Stadium 111, there's a patient with difficulty breathing in section 111 A [properly "alpha"], go check it out. Me: I'm going now. ... Me: Control, Stadium 111. [no answer] Control, Stadium 111, do you copy? Control: Stadium 111, I copy. Someone else: Control, Stadium 15, I have a patient unconscious in 15B, requesting paramedics. Control: Stadium 15, medics are en route. 15: Thank you, Control. Me: Control, 111. I'm taking the patient to First Aid East. Can I have an incident number? Control: 111, your incident number is 13.

And so on. How strictly people keep to these rules depends on (a) how formal the situation is (militaries are fussier than first aid services) and (b) how much cross-chatter there is. (When 15 breaks in, Control and I both start addressing our messages more carefully, so things don't get messed up.) This should be a quick way to indicate radio chatter. Since the tags are there, you can break it up into separate lines of dialogue or keep it together, as you choose. (I'd recommend keeping it all together if the main character isn't following it closely.)

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Think about using fonts more. Go wild and play with various fonts. Add a quick "font key" in the front of your book for the different fonts you use and their use in your book—font x for radio dialog, font y for drunken dialog, etc... It always surprises me that writers don't do more with fonts, using them as visual cues or a way to manipulate the mood.

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Mixing multiple text fonts on the same page can lead to an ugly book, unless the book designer is very skilled. (A book designer of ordinary skill just won’t do it, because they teach you in Graphic Design School not to put too many different fonts on the same page.) –  Seth Gordon Jan 28 '14 at 20:03
    
You can simply break the rules, do something new. –  John Moore Feb 7 '14 at 19:27
    
If your dialogue is well-written, you don't need separate fonts to tell different kinds of conversations apart. –  MissMonicaE Jul 29 at 4:01

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