Monday, February 15, 2016

4 Tips for Writing Unforgettable Argument Scenes

Pride and Prejudice epic argument (Pic Source)
Have you ever noticed that sometimes the best part of a story--be it film, movie, TV, or otherwise--is when the characters have a passionate fight? And I don't mean action. I mean an argument. The kind where they scream at one another for five minutes?

You wouldn't think we as readers would enjoy that, as most of don't enjoy engaging in those kinds of fights in real life. But story telling is different. These scenes, when done well, are the height of conflict. They're the height of the characters' passionate emotions and beliefs about something. They get our adrenaline pumping and make us excited to turn pages. 

In terms of masterful story telling, it can hash out conflict in a visceral way, give us the characters' points of view and beliefs in their own words (with the added bonus of intense emotion) and push them toward the next phase in their development, or the next turn in the story.

**Bonus tip: If you get stuck and don't know how the characters or the plot from A to B, consider a visceral, verbal, knock-down, drag-out scream fight. Even if you don't end up using it in the story, it'll do wonders for your creative juices.**

But how do we write these kinds of arguments? How do we make them really jump off the page and grip our readers by the guts?

Rocky III epic argument (Pic Source)
Here are some tips:

1) Write from the passion first. Don't start by trying to be logical or mapping out the argument. If you've already got the argument in your head, you probably already have a few awesome lines that you want shouted. Start there. Let the argument flow naturally. Don't worry about lame comebacks or repetition. You can edit later. Just let it flow. If you DON'T already have the argument in your head and are doing it as an exercise or to push the story forward, just think about each character's beliefs, feelings, and POV and have them start screaming it at one another. The rest will come. Trust me.

2) Ask questions. So once you've done your initial writing, you should have a pretty good idea what the argument is about. Or do you? Now is the time to start being more official and outline-y about it (totally a word). Ask your self the following questions about the argument.

     A. What kind of argument is it? The kind where one side is definitely right and one 
    side is definitely wrong, and you want your readers to be 100% on the "right" side? Or is it 
    the kind of argument where both sides have equal value and you want the reader to 
    empathize with both sides and be torn? (The answer to that question WILL change the 
    way you write the argument.)

     B. What does each side want to accomplish in this argument? What is their     
     reason for starting or participating in the argument to begin with? What do they believe? 
     What do they want to change? What's their OOD? (Remember that just as every villain 
     believes themselves the hero of their own story, so each side of an argument will believe 
     they are totally in the right. So make sure even the "wrong" side has compelling enough 
     arguments to not sound trite or half-hearted.)

      C. What do you, the author, want to accomplish with this argument? Do you 
      want one side or the other to have an epiphany and change their ways or beliefs? (Which 
      can push you toward the next turn in the story.) Or are both sides digging in their heels? 
      (You can show contrast with something that happens later--something that changes 
      later on--or show that this is why what happens down the road--some disaster perhaps--
      happens at all.) Is the argument accomplishing what you and the characters want or 
      need it to?

      D. If you're keeping score, who's winning? Let both sides get off a relatively equal 
      number of pot shots. Remember that most people are pretty good at hurling insults, 
      especially when they're buttons have been pushed or they feel passionately about 
      something. So make sure each side has a relatively equal number of points. You can also 
      use this to pull in the characters' flaws, insecurities and mistakes. 

Once that's done, it's time to rewrite. Put in what got left out the first time and re-examine your argument scene. 

3) Focus on the Dialogue. To quote Hamlet, "Words, words,words!" Take out all action, tags, and non-dialogue parts of the scene. Just read the actual words. Not only does this help you "hear" it in your head better, but it's easier to pinpoint repetition, unnecessary passages, and untidy wording. 

4) Have someone read it for you or, better yet, read it out loud with someone else. This part can be fun and can help file away the final unnecessary parts that might hold back your argument scene.

**Bonus Tip: If you REALLY want to multi-task and make your argument scene work for you, you can use it to open up your characters and show sides of them we've never seen before. In the above picture of Rocky and Adrian fighting on the beach, we saw a strength from Adrian that we rarely see. She was shouting, swearing, refusing to give ground. And she's a character that is usually content to stand quietly and let Rocky do his thing. So you can actually use major argument scenes like this for character development as well.**

Repeat the above steps until the argument is how you want it and accomplishes what you need it to. It might just be your readers' favorite scene.

Do YOU have any more tips for writing arguments?


  1. Great tips. I love reading arguments in books, especially the types of arguments where one character isn’t 100% wrong. I think a good argument can show the reader a lot about the characters’ personalities.

    Aj @ Read All The Things!

    1. Agreed! Especially when well done, they're some of the best scenes.

  2. Focus on the dialogue makes sense and I guess is a good reason to break the "show don't tell" rule.