Big meeting scenes

The Big Peat

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#1
I'm currently editing a scene in which the main PoV character is observing a giant meeting. She is emphatically not the main actor at the meeting. They're discussing strategy; she's just a junior officer acting as an aide.

How do I go about this? What good examples are there of such a thing? I suppose imagine the Council at Rivendell, but told from the close PoV of Pippin or Merry. Is this even a good idea?

I think the main thing devilling me is how much of her observations to have and how much meeting to have.

Also - is sentence construction along the lines of the following acceptable?

"Blah blah blah," said X, and Y wondered how on earth he didn't put himself to sleep. "Rhubarb blah rhubarb my ears are full of custard."

Thank you for all and any help.
 

TheDustyZebra

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#2
The main thing is that if it's in her POV (and that's perfectly acceptable), it's all her observations. Obviously, she has to be paying attention enough to get whatever is the critical reason that you have the meeting scene, but other than that it's whatever she would be noticing and thinking. Is she daydreaming about one of the other people at the meeting? Is her mind wandering to her grocery list? Is she dreadfully nervous about messing something up or tripping over her feet and spilling papers all over the place or dumping a pitcher of water in someone's lap? Does she have to remember something that she's supposed to say at some crucial point? Is she extremely conscientious and making sure to note every word down for the record?

And yes, that sentence conveys the statement of one person in the POV of the other. And may actually reflect the truth of what she's hearing at the meeting. :D
 

Dan Jones

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#3
Meeting scenes are tough, and yet they're strangely compelling from an author's point of view, I find; maybe because you feel you can get through a lot of plot all in one go. I had a big meeting scene in my epic fantasy, which initially was omni (like Council of Elrond) and introduced about 12 characters pretty much all in one go and had them all talking to each other, and my readers said their brains were melting by the end of it as it was too hard to keep up.

I later changed it so the POV character for the meeting was a major actor in the meeting, and so knew all of the ins and outs of what was being discussed, and was paying attention, and had personal stakes involved. That made it easier to digest, I think.

Anyone who's spent anytime in the corporate / Government world knows that meetings are frequently chaotic, meandering and are dominated by the two or three people in the room with the loudest voices. Making a meeting scene too much like a real life (which, incidentally, is my opinion of the Council of Elrond; it's a special interest group meeting that the chair can't quite control) one isn't probably the way to go; sticking to what's important is key for a decent dramatisation.

I did another type of meeting scene in MOW, where the POV character is meeting with other officials, but in which he has a dark secret he's hiding (which the reader is party to) and which causes him to manipulate the meeting for his own ends, which kept the point of the meeting pertinent. That seemed to work ok, I think.

It sounds like your character doesn't on the surface have much of a stake in the meeting as she's so junior, so maybe that's something to think about. Even if she doesn't understand everthing that's being said, so long as she's holding on to the conclusions then that should hook the reader.
 

millymollymo

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#4
The meeting might well be boring, but where there is politics there is conflict, possibly even bloodshed. You can learn a lot about a character from how they behave in a meeting. Does the strategy match her opinion on what should be done, does she even have one? Are any of those at the meeting aware of what role she plays, can they use her to help them reach a goal? Is she the sort to distract a roomful of influential sorts when things aren't going the way she wants? Does she have to process all the 'paperwork' and fill out endless databases as a followup?
 

Jo Zebedee

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#5
Keep it close to the character, make sure their conflict is considered, or inject a sense of humour or voice, keep it pared down to what matters, and you should he fine provided the meeting's subject matter is relevant, interesting and moves the story and characters on. If it doesn't, it shouldn't be there...
 

HareBrain

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#6
I think this depends on whether the meeting itself is interesting to the reader. If so, then as long as you give the occasional reaction from the POV character, I wouldn't worry about it too much. The reason no one cares whose POV the Council of Elrond is written from is that we readers have waited the whole book so far to find out what's going on, and writing technicalities can go hang until we've found out.

If the meeting itself isn't of interest, then you need to stick much closer and give her something interesting to do or think about, as others have suggested, and you also need to make her the focus rather than the meeting, whose content you might relate in brief summaries.
 
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#7
You don't say how many people are attending the meeting or the purpose of the POV's observations. As has already been mentioned, meetings can be chaotic and it's important this doesn't confuse the reader. The POV's intentions should be clear from the outset, so the reader knows which elements of the scene are important. One approach would be use the good old "onion" method. Start with a snapshot of the meeting: location, number of people, seating arrangements (if applicable) , ambience. Then peel away that layer to reveal those characters that are important to the scene, perhaps a more detailed description of them. Then finally, peel away again and concerntrate on what those characters say.
 

Brian G Turner

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#8
I'm currently editing a scene in which the main PoV character is observing a giant meeting. She is emphatically not the main actor at the meeting. They're discussing strategy; she's just a junior officer acting as an aide.
IMO the POV character for any scene should be the one with the most conflict in context with it.

For a meeting scene, that either means the character chairing the meeting, so we can be led through their conflicts and doubts and expectations - OR a character there who has doubts, conflicts and expectations relating to that scene.

In either instance, the character should, ideally, be active and never passive - that means they do not exist merely to observe what other people are doing/saying.

However, in the publishing world passive characters who sit around listening to other characters can and does happen.

Brandon Sanderson does that in the first Mistborn book, around chapter 4 - a POV character just sits around for 8k words listening to another character infodump. The irony is that the character leading the meeting later has their own POV scenes.

I don't know if Sanderson's agent or editor ever challenged him on this, but IMO it was a huge technical mistake to have such a long passive scene in the book, let alone near the beginning.
 

Toby Frost

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#9
This is tricky and I've still not got it quite worked out - although they are very interesting to write, for some reason.

First, I'd say to stick firmly within character POV. What do they want from this? How do they react to what's said, internally and externally? There's lots of room for nervous twitching, playing with/snapping pencils, consulting with aides, etc. I've found these easier to write if the character is fighting for something or arguing a point of view.

Secondly, in a large meeting it's likely that, for any specific issue, people will divide into sides. I suspect a reader can deal with about 4 viewpoints on a topic: call them Big Yes, Small Yes, Small No and Big No, or maybe Yes, No and Something Crazy. So in a scene I've been writing recently, we have one huge country, the head of the church, and the leaders of a group of minor principalities. The principalities meet up first and agree a plan and a spokesman: Prince M ends up representing them, so really there are only three main sides in the scene. Others try to involve different members of the principalities, to split the group, but Prince M diverts the questions to keep the group together, which is a sort of subplot in itself.

If your character is completely passive and unable to participate, is it best to do the scene quickly and then turn to her response? She marches out of the building with the other officers, down the corridor not meeting anyone's eyes, gets to the mess room, closes the door and shouts "The king's gone mad!", or whatever seems right.

Oh, and I think that sentence construction is fine.
 

Susan Boulton

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#10
How would you behave and react in a large meeting and use that as a base.
Then ask yourself, why is your character there. Are they just there as an aide, (see all, say nowt)or do they have to take notes or will their opinion, be asked for by their superior at some point or if the superior needs clarification of some part of the meeting.
How long is the meeting? (long meetings can be boring and you can, well, I used to lose focus, especially if things started going round in circles)
Do any of the attendees have a tick or bad habit, (say picking their nails) which draws her attention.
During some research I did about bomber command crew briefings, I found out that some members of the crew, made notes all the way through,(usually pilots and Flight engineers) some, say wireless officer or navigator only took interest when it came to what they needed to know. Rear and waist gunners, quite often once they where the raid was to be, grew bored, sometimes flicked elastic bands, lent back on their chairs etc.

Perhaps write it all out, everything, then edit it down, narrowing the focus to what information you want to give the reader, about the meeting and about your character.
 

Ragandar

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#11
IMO the POV character for any scene should be the one with the most conflict in context with it.

For a meeting scene, that either means the character chairing the meeting, so we can be led through their conflicts and doubts and expectations - OR a character there who has doubts, conflicts and expectations relating to that scene.

In either instance, the character should, ideally, be active and never passive - that means they do not exist merely to observe what other people are doing/saying.

However, in the publishing world passive characters who sit around listening to other characters can and does happen.

Brandon Sanderson does that in the first Mistborn book, around chapter 4 - a POV character just sits around for 8k words listening to another character infodump. The irony is that the character leading the meeting later has their own POV scenes.

I don't know if Sanderson's agent or editor ever challenged him on this, but IMO it was a huge technical mistake to have such a long passive scene in the book, let alone near the beginning.
Sanderson actually does it again in the Stormlight Archives 2.1 (Words of Radiance).

Spoilered in case it's a spoiler. Really not sure. Better to be safe than sorry.
Shallan observes a meeting of the highprinces at a time when she has very little knowledge on the subject matter and the people attending it. She spends the meeting reflecting on how outdated the information Jasnah gave her is.

It felt like she paid more attention to one of the highprinces, who was one of the louder ones, so that would be in accordance with what's been said already.

It is kept tense because she has to speak with Dalinar afterwards. At the time, she has nothing to offer them, but has to convince Dalinar to take her in. Here, too, the character that leads the meeting has his own POV (Dalinar).
 

The Big Peat

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#12
Thank you all.

Sentence structure - was worried that putting in someone's words and someone else's thoughts would be a no no.

This did actually start as an attempt to convey the chaos and frequent ineffectuality of meetings in real life (for plot reasons). I would like to upgrade DG Jones' statement that making a meeting like real life is probably not the way to go to almost fricking definitely not the way to go. Not that many of you needed this information but, y'know, one day someone might read this and be saved for a draft. Part of me feels no meetings is the way forwards for future books. My initial thought had been that a military SF book with no meetings lacked verisimilitude but I might in future treat them like going to the toilet - off-screen because of TMI.

I probably won't though.

On more specific points

I went for the observer rather than the doer initially because it felt more realistic. I repent of this but will keep it, if it works (and I think it does) because she is more at conflict with what's going on in the meeting than the possible PoV doer. She definitely has a stake, definitely wants things to go one way.

Its definitely made the scene harder but not impossible, and I think having someone who's mainly an observer does open up some possibilities. She will speak up at the end out of desperation however; I can't leave her totally lacking in agency. And I'm giving her plenty of voice and observation.

Number of sides - Yeah, I've boiled it down already. There were like... six originally? There's now Outsiders Asking What Do You Want, Answer 1, Answer 2, and briefly Answer Cray-Cray.

Likewise in doing so I've boiled down the number of characters and number of characters speaking. (There's 30 people present. I can't have 30 peopple speaking. That would be madness).
 

zmunkz

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#13
I don't know if Sanderson's agent or editor ever challenged him on this, but IMO it was a huge technical mistake to have such a long passive scene in the book, let alone near the beginning.
He improves on this, I would say. In addition to the scene mentioned by @Ragandar, there is another scene in Words of Radiance (or maybe the end of WoK?) where **no spoilers** the POV bridgeman finds himself standing around in an important meeting, and can't seem to keep from speaking up and becoming a participant even though he is not supposed to be. What should have been a passive scene with him just listening in becomes a character building moment instead, while still getting the meeting stuff across.
 

Biskit

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#14
One of the things your junior character ought to be able to bring out is the relative significance of the others. In pretty much every big meeting I have ever been in, there are only a handful of real 'players' and they generally fall into two groups - the politicians (small p) and the experts, Everybody else is padding, or spare experts in case someone needs to defend/promote something on a technical level, The balance and dynamics of a meeting can be interesting, and provide dramatic scope when someone says something 'out of turn'.

Then you can always throw in the Biskit special - have someone stand up to make a presentation listed in the agenda as 'The behaviour of green widgets' and introduce it with the phrase 'I know it says green widgets, but I'm going to tell you about red doodads...'
 

Phyrebrat

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#15
Why not put a smample (small sample) in crits, Pete?

If you need an eye for readeriness, then that's the best place.

Otherwise I'd say write it with the same amount of confidence or trepidation you write your other scenes. I've seen your writing on chrons and I can't imagine you having a hard time with this.

pH
 

Biskit

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#16
Why not put a smample (small sample) in crits, Pete?
Sorry, had a sudden attack of the giggles over 'smample' - I had an apparently incurable inability to type 'sample' throughout my technical career, and littered reports with 'smample' or 'smaple', and then managed to hit the wrong button on the spellchecker to include 'smaple' into the user dictionary.
 

Phyrebrat

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#17
Sorry, had a sudden attack of the giggles over 'smample' - I had an apparently incurable inability to type 'sample' throughout my technical career, and littered reports with 'smample' or 'smaple', and then managed to hit the wrong button on the spellchecker to include 'smaple' into the user dictionary.
Hehe, that's how I came up with it. So sick of mistyping s a m p l e that I decided to get creative ;)

pH
 

The Big Peat

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#18
I now want to see people talk about smarmples. People citing individual incidents to justify their entire world view in an incredibly patronising and smug way. I'm sure we all know people who've done it; this word is needed!

pH - I may do. I'm reasonably happy after my rewrite of the scene though; the technical and moral help here has been fantastic.
 

Broked

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#19
When I write scenes like this, I find it easiest to write them more like meeting minutes than an actual scene, first. That lets me keep track of who is saying what, and lets me avoid name and pronoun confusion while I'm getting the first draft down. The trick after that, of course, is to then turn what I've got into something people will actually want to read, but I suppose that's what craft is for.
 
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