Parties can be a great source of dramatic tension in a story. Everyone has hopes of how the night will go when attending a large gathering. Will there be someone new and exciting to meet? Or will the night not meet expectations?
Your protagonist might meet a new love interest, or have to deal with an awkward ex, or both. Even at family type gatherings (like, say, Thanksgiving) this sort of drama can bubble up. Maybe your protagonist’s cousin brings home a new friend that he or she starts to fall for, or some argument with “that racist uncle” pushes your protagonist over the edge.
Parties and social gathering push us to interact with different types of people, which makes them great narrative set pieces for generating conflict. If you want to up your party writing game, here are my suggestions…
1.) Think About Whether or Not You Need the Scene
As with every scene in a story, the party scene should be important to the plot (or at least one of the subplots) and should showcase some character development. Don’t just throw it into the story willy-nilly. In a gathering of many people, there is room for some great conflict, so make sure that you use the scene to generate some drama and make things interesting. If the scene is in the story, it needs to pull its weight, not just be there because “hey people have parties, right?”
2.) Focus on a Couple of Characters
The party you’re writing about may be a large gathering, but you shouldn’t overwhelm your reader with a lot of characters all at once. This is doubly true if your reader is meeting new characters in the party scene. The opening for Reservoir Dogs is a great cinematic moment, but that kind of scene doesn’t translate well to the written word because there are too many characters to track, and without the aid of visual or vocal distinction, it’s difficult for the reader to follow. Make the scene really about the protagonist’s experience, and let it reveal things about him or her as it progresses.
3.) Pan the Camera
That being said, if the gathering is large, you should communicate that to the reader. Be sure to bring up things happening at the event. Break up your dialogue segments by having the characters notice something going on at the party. Maybe it’s the bros taking their shirts off at the beer pong table, the sound of people chanting “chug” from another room, or even just noticing that grandma is passing out at the dinner table again. Parties and gatherings are always full of action, big and small ones, so make sure to relate these to your reader, even while focusing on the smaller dialogue interactions between your fewer, primary characters in the scene.
4.) Make It Awkward
Parties and social events bring all types of different people together. So I would say that even if the primary goal of the party scene is something positive, like introducing the protagonist to his or her love interest, you should make sure there is some unpleasantness as well. In a large gathering, there is usually at least one person you don’t really want to talk to that much. In fiction you can up the ante. Think of who your character would least like to see, and have that person be there adding some excitement, awkwardness, or complexity to whatever is going on.
5.) Keep Party Personalities in Mind
People want to come off in certain ways at social gatherings or sometimes they just act differently in large groups of people than they do when with a smaller group of friends. Keep this in mind when writing your own characters. You may want to have your protagonist attempt to project in a way he or she wouldn’t normally. Or maybe the protagonist notices other characters acting in ways they don’t normally. Maybe they’re more outgoing and boastful, trying to get attention. Or maybe they’re awkward and quiet when in a smaller group they’re more effusive. Then again, they may not act differently at all, but I think this is still something worth considering.
I hope these tips are helpful for you, if you are planning to write a party scene. Are there any other tips for writing parties that you think I missed? Share your thoughts in the comments and let me know!
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