Too often, when we think about dialogue, we think of two people taking turns in strict alternation. Today I’d like to look at expanding the dialogue, with some examples from Connie Willis, who has a genius for mixing it up, with three, four or even more people talking across each other and sharing information or, more likely, misinformation.
Sometimes it’s mainly for comic effect, as in this passage from Blackout: two people trying to talk to each other about times and places while a third person is on the phone, reading out a printout of, guess what, times and places.
“August seventh?” Phipps asked Badri.
“That’s right,” Linna said, “1536,” and Michael looked over at her, confused, but she was back at the phone, reading off a printout. “London, the trial of Anne Boleyn—”
“Yes, the seventh,” Badri said to Phipps. “The drop will open every half hour. Move a bit to the right.” He motioned with his hand. “A bit more.” Phipps shambled obediently to the right. “A bit to the left. Good. Now hold that.” He walked back over to the console and hit several keys, and the folds of the net began to lower around Phipps.
“I need you to note the amount of temporal slippage on the drop.”
“October tenth 1940,” Linna said into the phone, “to December eighteenth-”