Dialogue: Writing Arguments

Posted: July 30, 2016 in Writing Tips
Tags: , , ,

Recently, my friend on Twitter, @SoroiyaS, asked me to help her with some dialogue for writing an argument. After talking with her for a bit, I realized this would be a great topic for a blog post! It’s even better that I have other posts on dialogue already, so maybe I’ll continue to do a whole series over time.

Arguments. Everyone has them. They are discussions that are charged with emotions on both sides. Often times no one is really listening to anyone but themselves, or the insults and injuries they hear from the other side. Everyone involved thinks they’re right, and the others are wrong. People say things they don’t mean, are spiteful, or really let “the hurtful truth” out in full force.

Conflict is important to the story and arguments are one way to add or intensify conflict. Characters who get along all the time aren’t realistic. Best friends, spouses, siblings; we all get annoyed and fed up. Putting your characters in these situations will make them more human.

arguing-1296392_640

Pacing

One of the key elements of an argument is the pace. This isn’t going to be a normal conversation. It’s going to move quickly as one person tries to talk over the other. It is very important to speed the pace along with dropping your dialogue tags.

This is easy to do with two people. It becomes more challenging the more people you involve in the argument. The key is to be wise with your tags. Use them only when necessary. Arguments should not feel sluggish.

Let’s look at some examples.

“I told you it started at six.”

“No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“Whatever.”

She clenched her jaw. “Are you calling me a liar?”

This example starts in the middle, but you can see how a quick back and forth sets the pacing. Let’s look at the same example with a third party.

“I told you it started at six.”

He shook his head. “No, you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“I don’t think you did,” his friend muttered.

She glanced in his direction. “Shut up!”

Tags are important indicators of who is speaking. Keep it clear and hold firm to the emotional tone, and keep moving.

Action Tags

Along a similar line of keeping tags out of the way, action tags are useful in setting the tone of the argument. Using tags like said, asked, or yelled are unnecessary. Let your punctuation work for you. Actions peppered throughout an angry scene can help the reader feel exactly how angry, (or frustrated or annoyed,) the characters are feeling.

As you can see in my above examples, my tags are all action tags. Using these sparingly at the right moments will keep the pacing moving and can heat up or cool off a conversation. This is how you steer dialogue where you want it to be.

Eye rolling, jaw clenching, heat rising in the face, crossing your arms; these are all examples of actions angry people take. Body language is just as important in a story as it is in the real world. You can also skip someone speaking altogether by showing how they are standing or their reaction to what the other person just said.

Word Choice

Another way to get a reader into an argument is through word choice. This will be a direct result of your characterization and setting. Despite that, choosing certain words will cause an automatic response in readers.

Some common modern words that are considered triggers in arguments are quantifying words. “You always” and “you never” really get arguments moving. This is true in real life and adding it to the story makes it more realistic.

Dismissive words like “whatever” are also key words to trigger annoyance and anger in characters. Readers will recognize them. Even words such as “okay” can be turned around into something dismissive if paired with a tag for sarcasm.

This is also another way to steer the conversation. Heat up the argument or cool it down. The outcome of an argument can change the direction of the story.

Heat it up:

“I told you it started at six.”

“No you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“Whatever.”

She clenched her fists. “Are you calling me a liar?”

“You’re always so dramatic.”

“I’m not dramatic!”

He rolled his eyes. “Yeah, right. You’re not dramatic at all.”

“Shut up!”

Cool it down:

“I told you it started at six.”

“No you didn’t.”

“Yes, I did!”

“Whatever.”

She clenched her fists. “Are you calling me a liar?”

“No, I’m saying that you’ve been busy and maybe you just forgot to tell me.”

“I remember telling you. Maybe you forgot that I told you.”

He thought for a moment. “Maybe. I didn’t miss it intentionally.”

These arguments are going in two very different directions. As the author it’s up to you to decide where they are in their relationship when it’s over, whatever that relationship might be.

Research!

This is one of our favorite words, isn’t it? Of course everyone argues, but learning about arguments can help you understand their dynamics. In the age of the internet many marriage counselors and other psychologists have advice on arguments and managing anger. There are also some sights that post problems between couples, how they argued, and how they found resolution (or ended things.)

Learning from others will also broaden your characterization skills and even help you find new conflicts to incorporate into your stories.

Remember:

  • Limit the number of dialogue tags to keep up the pacing
  • Use action tags sparingly to help express the emotions of your characters
  • Word choice is key to helping your readers feel the intensity of an argument
  • Steer the argument to heat up or cool down depending on where you want it to end
  • Research real arguments and real arguing techniques

Thank you for reading today. I hope you find something useful here, and if you have more tips, feel free to share them in the comments!

Advertisements
Comments
  1. erikafrose says:

    This is a great post! I definitely need to add some arguments in my books. People don’t always get along. I love the different example you gave.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s