Help with examples of public (peanut gallery) reactions to characters arguing.

msstice

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I have several places in my book where I have two characters engaged in a verbal duel. These are not domestic arguments but political jousting, with supporters on both sides. In between their arguments I'd like to show the responses of onlookers to what they say. I'm unfortunately out of ways to describe this, and it begins to sound repetitive. I can only describe the audience "gasping, tittering, laughing, guffawing and crying out" so many times. Now that I write it out, I suspect I have too much audience reaction in my writing currently. Does anyone have suggestions for passages in well received books where this has been done well? Thank you.
 
I have several places in my book where I have two characters engaged in a verbal duel. These are not domestic arguments but political jousting, with supporters on both sides. In between their arguments I'd like to show the responses of onlookers to what they say. I'm unfortunately out of ways to describe this, and it begins to sound repetitive. I can only describe the audience "gasping, tittering, laughing, guffawing and crying out" so many times. Now that I write it out, I suspect I have too much audience reaction in my writing currently. Does anyone have suggestions for passages in well received books where this has been done well? Thank you.
I suspect that your intuition about having too much crowd interaction may be correct. Would the scenes work equally as well without the crowd interaction? Just have the two characters argue? Brandon Sanderson describes a reader as being in either description mode or dialog mode. If the reader is in dialog mode, his or her mind skips over the descriptive bits and focusses on the back and forth conversation. Can the crowd merely come in at the start and end of the scene?

If it is desired to have the crowd interaction, then consider making the crowd a full participant in the discussion. From the description, the crowd sounds like it is running into the saidism trap of having too many synonyms for said. Perhaps a crowd member can call out an insult, "So's your mother" or "Just like a country bumpkin" instead of just making background noises. Consider giving a crowd member some lines of dialog used by one of the arguing characters, such as, "And what about the Imperial Army?" Make the crowd a character in the argument, not merely background noise like a car backfiring.

Trust your intuition, it is trying to tell you something. Play around with both decreasing and increasing crowd interaction in the scenes. It also may be better to use different techniques in different scenes. I hope this is helpful.
 
My first thought is: how do these debates usually play out, and how are the audience expected to behave? It they're more formal, they might be like a debating contest, and the audience might just be expected to nod along, with the occasional bout of clapping. If they're like a spectator sport, it might be more raucous. Perhaps there's an official who tells the crowd to quieten down, like in a snooker match. I once saw footage of a rapping contest where the audience gestured and struck poses very much like the contestants.

I like the idea of having the crowd as almost a third character. Picking out particular people might work as well: "A tubby, red-faced woman stood up and shook her fist at the stage. 'Rubbish!' she cried" etc.
 
It is a good example of something that works well in film or even radio but is hard to write.
You see this problem on subtitled youtubes, "gentle music" "laughter" and such. It grates (unless, of course, you are a deaf beneficiary of it.)

Think back to the canned laughter era the audience response laughter, mumbling, clapping etc' are sound effects, not words.
So yes establish the divided audience position with words but craft the debate dialogue to carry most of it, with occasional descriptions as @Toby Frost suggests.
 
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I quite like the idea of telling it as two speakers fighting over the audience. That way you could see it very much through the eyes of one of the speakers. "Bob looked across the audience. Their eyes were locked on him, their faces almost hungry with anticipation" - except better-written than that!
 
The type of reaction you mention is usually reserved for places like the Houses of Parliament. Mostly in political debates (unless something controversial or funny is said) the audience tends to be much more reserved (think for example the BBC show 'Question Time'). It can pretty much be taken for granted that supporters of each side in political debate will support their own candidate, so unless it's relevant to the story (eg a riot breaks out) then I would consider describing the audience/crowd/supporters at the beginning of the situation (eg boisterous, expectant) and concentrate on what is being said than any further description of the crowd's reactions.
 
I think the matter of crowd interactions depends on where the political jousting is taking place. In UK Parliament, most likely more reserved. In a US staged debate, possibly more excited. In a Taiwanese debate, much more excited.

In short, context would be everything.
 
It may also depend on the importance of this “political jousting” to your story. Does the plot hinge on which of these characters really wins over the hearts and minds of the people? Does one of them do something (maybe says the quiet part out loud) to change their public standing in the course of these debates?

if so, maybe use the audience reactions to advance the plot.

but if the purpose of the debate in the story is more to show how the debaters relate to each other, or to expose the reader to the character’ political leanings, then audience reaction could be surplus.
 
I think the matter of crowd interactions depends on where the political jousting is taking place. In UK Parliament, most likely more reserved. In a US staged debate, possibly more excited. In a Taiwanese debate, much more excited.

In short, context would be everything.


Any time they're shown on tv they seem to be either half asleep or acting like overactive schoolkids.
 
>I suspect I have too much audience reaction in my writing currently
I think the setting may matter here. Why do you have audience reaction at all? I can't think of many examples where two characters are arguing, or even debating more formally, and there is an audience reaction. And then to have that happen several times over the course of the novel seems even more of a stretch.

What is the role of the audience reaction in advancing the plot or developing a character?
 
What is the role of the audience reaction in advancing the plot or developing a character?
This is the key question.

In my world the characters are under the yoke of a corrupt leader. The leader is corrupting more and more of the institutions. The leader is sort of popular with the people because they know which buttons to push (sound familiar?) but their policies are degrading everything.

Our characters have periodic run ins with the leader often in a public kangaroo court. The leaders aim is to establish dominance by humiliating anyone they see as a threat. Over time this strategy backfires as our heroes do heroic things and speak truth to power and more and more people admire them and what they are doing.

The public's reactions during the kangaroo courts are our barometer of where the public stands re: our heroes and the corrupt leader.
 
As the debate loudly rolled on, the onlookers exchanged glances as their discomfort with the situation increased. Finally, cutting through the din of the argument, one voice rang out.

"Let's get 'em!"

As if a single organism, the audience surged forward, leaping over tables and knocking down furniture. The debaters faltered, suddenly becoming aware of the frenzy heading toward them. The first wave knocked them from their feet - their screams lost in the cacophony of sturdy furniture torn apart to fashion the clubs of their demise. All voices were silenced for a time, replaced by the wet sounds of wood on flesh.

Their work done, the crowd cleaned up and went home.
 
Related to @Swank's post, I seem to recall a scene, perhaps from Lone Star Planet, where a candidate for re-election is placed in a football stadium (American football), the audience is armed, and if the candidate can make it to the other end of the field alive, he gets re-elected. Supposedly based on Texas, although I sure don't remember hearing of any re-election like that. Sigh...
 

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