Three’s a Crowd

two meerkats looking left, one looking up at the sky

Photograph of a Meerkat Family by Rennett Stowe / CC BY 2.0

So, I’m writing a scene in which Julia is conflicted about how far she should go to find the answers she’s looking for. She’s finally gotten the courage to ask when, of course, she’s foiled by someone else entering the scene. Don’t you just hate that? Ha! What a wonderfully sinister device.

I don’t plan on arguing the merits of stringing readers and characters along this way (but feel free to do so in the comments). I noticed that, when Character Interuptus entered, Character Informus just shut up and sat in the corner. Thinking through all of the Julia scenes, I realized that very few have more than two characters in them. And if there are three, one shuffles away pretty quickly. Apparently, I have a problem wrangling characters. It’s not like I’m trying to herd cats or anything. My characters are normally well behaved and do what I say. So, what’s my problem?

Really, I’m asking. That wasn’t rhetorical. Other writers seem to do it without a problem…and, of course, I’m drawing a blank when thinking of examples. After conjuring the books I read most recently, it seems that I lean towards loner fiction. The main character is out there by herself, fighting the good fight, but there are the occasional scenes where Ms. Loner actually interacts with more than one person at a time.

But I know that books in which multiple characters interact with each other on multiple occasions do exist! Can you think of any masters of the mulit-character scene that I should study?

6 thoughts on “Three’s a Crowd

  1. Can’t think of any multiple-character writings off-hand, but must say that for a *long* time I’ve noticed that when fiction writers set up a family unit they rarely devise a family of more than two children. And fictional “grown-ups,” especially if they are married and have their own children, rarely refer to any siblings. Not exactly what you are talking about here, but I have taken note of this over the years and after reading your post am wondering if fiction writers just don’t want to deal with the complication?.

  2. Cam

    Thanks Beth. Maybe I’m not crazy or lazy after all.

    Fiction can be complicated enough, why toss in a character who doesn’t add to the story?

  3. Emily

    I can’t really think of any multiple-character scenes, either. If you have them, then you really have to over-use names to tell who is speaking…

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