When creating a compelling scene in your stories that will really work to hold the attention of your readers captive, it’s always important to remember what elements you can use, and what tools that you have at your disposal, that can elicit that particular emotional response in your readers. And one of the most powerful spells that you can cast as a wizard of words...is the amazing power of confrontation.
When I say ‘confrontation’, I’m not talking about conflict. Conflict can simply be an opposing point of view or a motivation that grinds against the motivations of another character. Which is also an important part of the process when it comes to writing an intriguing story for your audience to read...but confrontation is different. And it can really be effective in riling your readers up if you take time to build the tension and the frustration to the point where an eventual clash of conflicting ideas or emotions becomes inevitable. And when it finally happens...you’ve got the readers too invested to look away from the train wreck that you’re about to toss their way!
So, let’s butt heads for a little while...and let’s talk about writing arguments!
I believe that the first part of any major conflict between your characters should come from the actual characters themselves, and not just from opposing positions on whatever it is that they’re fighting about. People are different. Similar, sure...but we all have different ways of seeing the world. However, how we handle those differences is what determines the potency of whatever flare ups we happen to be dealing with. Just as in real life, so as in fiction. When you have two characters, even if one of them is your main protagonist, that have made these differences a fundamental part of who they are as a person...arguments are destined to occur. Don’t glance over this in your writing. That’s a dynamic that you, as a writer, can use to your advantage. Begin by defining these differences and letting your audience know what they are, and allow the friction between those two ideologies to build over time. Little by little. Maybe both characters start off by biting their tongues for the sake of keeping the peace...then little hints and comments are made to let one another know this random conflict is a bother and a burden...and escalate things even further as the actions and dialogue between them gains with hostility and bitterness...until, finally, the gloves come off, and a heated confrontation ensues.
By establishing the friction as a deep seeded part of the characters themselves, and then stirring that pot until it bubbles and boils over until one character or another has finally had enough of the bullshit...you are simultaneously creating a sense of anticipation in your audience that is also expected to reach a similar boiling point for themselves. When I mention it being a part of the character, it’s for a more dramatic effect. It’s not just a verbal disagreement, it’s a ‘game’ of sorts where one of the combatants will have to give up a part of themselves in order for there to be any peace. There’s something more personal about it, in my opinion. It can be difficult to ask someone to step away from a part of themselves, instead of simply walking away from a random argument.
Hmmm...let me see if I’m saying this right...
When writing an argument between two people...your readers should still feel, and prioritize, the personalities of your characters over the words being shouted at one another. There should be a familiarity there that makes them go, “Yeah, I can see why he’d feel that way.” Not because they know the argument, but because they feel invested in the people delivering your dialogue. There should be an understanding of why this person is so triggered, annoyed, or threatened, by what’s going on. And yet, they should feel out of character by reacting that way. It should make perfect sense why these two people don’t get along, or at the very least agree on this particular issue at hand. Does that make sense? I hope so. ::Fingers Crossed::
So, now that you’ve set the stage for a verbal (Or possibly, even a physical) showdown between your characters...how do plan to approach it? A well written argument is a story structure in itself. Remember us talking about story structure as a whole in past articles? The same rules apply. You have an inciting incident, a rising conflict, a climax, and an eventual solution. Although, in this case, the only solution maybe someone rushing in to break it up and scream, “STOP FIGHTING!” Hehehe! When people argue, things tend to get rather heated very quickly. People cut each other off, they raise their voices, they get animated, become more intimidating...think of some of the really bad arguments that you’ve had in your life, and try to see if you can remember where it even began and where it ended. And if it was even worth it or not. Keep that in mind when writing these things out.
For the sake of fiction, there’s no better argument than the ones where your audience can see both sides of the equation. Creating a conflict within them as well makes them a part of the fight. And sometimes they’ll talk to one another about it and begin to take sides. But that’s what happens when you’ve grown attached to the characters involved. It’s kind of like that urge you feel when you have someone you love and care about get into a fight with someone else...and whether they’re in the right or in the wrong, in that moment...you kind of want to take their side anyway. You know what I mean? You can yell at them in private later, but right now, you’ve got their back.
So, when planning out this big collision between characters...keep their personal traits in mind. How they argue should match who they are. Are they the kind to give someone the silent treatment and refuse to talk to them anymore? Are they the kind of person who is quick to get angry, ball up his fists, and explode at a moment’s notice? Do they argue from a place of self defense, a place of pure anger and rage, or from a place of pain and suffering? And as this angry back and forth continues to linger on and escalate...how long until one of these characters crosses the line?
I’d like to show this short scene from the third season of “Stranger Things” as an example of an argument that is coming from a place of hurt. These boys grew up as being the very best of friends, and while Will’s sexual has always been subtly hinted at from the very first season with a little teasing or awkwardness from the kids at school...it’s never really been addressed directly. Well, they’re all growing up now, and he’s the only one of his friends who doesn’t have a girlfriend yet. Leading to this little altercation in the rain...
What I really like about this scene is the moment where, just like I said...they’re two best friends who are getting more and more aggravated while trying to prove a point...until one of them crosses the line. When writing an argument, don’t ever forget that some characters, friend or foe, can resort to a few low blows. Even if they end up regretting it later. A fight between friends or lovers can be the most hurtful experience that they’ll ever go through, because they know what buttons to press. They see the softness of your underbelly, and that can make for deep cuts when things get out of control. What you have to think about now is whether you want this to be a problem that can patched up later on in the story. Don’t go TOO hard with the hurtful comments if you’re planning for these characters to ever see eye to eye again. What effect do you want this to have in your story? Think about it, and mold a convincing argument around it that won’t come off as either being meaningless, or overly harsh.
Something else to think about when adding a serious confrontation to your project is the power dynamic of the two characters engaged in the fight. Two teenage buds might be able to see eye to eye and hold their own...but how does this change when it comes to dealing with a bully that’s much bigger or meaner than your protagonist? How does it change when they’re much smaller? Or if one of them has been holding on to a damaging secret that they’ve been waiting to play as an ace the second he has a reason to think he has to? Leverage is a power tactic too. And what if it’s an argument with someone that your protagonist is madly in love with, or sworn to protect? Once the equal standing is thrown out of balance, the fight changes. Sometimes drastically.
This scene is from the movie “Fences”, where a growing boy is having a major disagreement with his father. The build up warranted this kind of reaction from him, but right or wrong...his father holds dominion over that household. Fighting with your friends and fighting with your parents are two completely different battles. I find that these conversations are best demonstrated with a tense ‘shut up and listen’ appeal. Even when it’s mean, abusive, or cruel...the difference in the power dynamic creates another layer of respect or lack thereof, of fear and intimidation, or maybe just brainwashed obedience, to the situation as a whole. Give it a look...
Can you see the difference here? In the “Stranger Things” example, neither one of those boys is going to stand there and allow himself to be lectured by the other. But being approached by your father in such an authoritative way changes the direction and the overall feeling of the argument. You’re almost left with no other weapons than silent defiance and resentment at that point. Something else to keep in mind when writing a heated confrontation between your characters. Power matters. The anger management is different. The words being spoken are different. And if you say something that’s totally out of line...you’d better mean it. Or you can find yourself in a really bad spot! Whether it be a parent, a bully, a teacher, your boss at work...whatever. So temper that fury and choose your battles wisely.
And one more example before I go...
This is an example of a really slow, simmering, gravy or sauce on the stove. One that will ruin itself eventually if you just leave it to fester and burn for a long long time without doing anything to work on it. This is the deeply wounded argument. Or, as I like to call it, the ‘limp’ argument. (Hehehe, no, not sexually!) It’s like...you twist your ankle, break a leg, smash one of your toes...and you don’t want to go to the doctor to get it taken care of. So, even though it causes you a ton of discomfort and pain...you never repair the damage done. You simply learn to walk with a ‘limp’. There are a lot of arguments like this in a variety of different stories, where the wounds have been there for so long that the characters have grown numb to their effects and simply choose to ignore them. Until...you add your magical ‘inciting incident’ that brings all of those hurt and angry feelings to the surface, and both characters end up vomiting it all over the place until they can find some relief. Arguments can sometimes be used to heal the extended damage that’s been done over years of silence...or it might end up revealing a few truths that tell the characters that this simply isn’t a problem that they can’t fix. You can play with both sides of this equation to see which one appeals to you more, but the main point is to give your readers a feeling like these people have been on a long and tortuous road, and are possibly reaching the end of it at long last.
You accomplish this by having the dialogue surround a myriad of unrelated events, always referring to them in the past tense, and then having this almost chaotic back and forth between whoever’s talking. Remember, the idea is that this has been going on for a long long time, and finally, enough is enough. Again, the argument is going to come off as a bit different because they’ve let it linger for so long. They’ve been avoiding a confrontation for so long that the confrontation becomes inevitable. Both sides are convinced that they’re right, and have been the only one keeping the peace while their combatant has been skating away with all of the offenses, scott free.
Give it a look...
In arguments like this, everyone has a reason, an answer, or an excuse, for everything. This one is more lighthearted than the others, showing that these arguments can be used in a comedic way as well as an angry or violent one. But this is a fresh new clash over a bunch of very old problems. When watching the three videos, try to feel out the difference, and how you might be able to incorporate that particular vibe into your next big throwdown in your stories. Cool?
Anyway, as always, I hope this helps a lot with future projects of yours! Have fun! And always remember to have fun with your art! Hehehe, even when the shit hits the fan!