Friday, November 24, 2017

8 Tips for Writing Arguments

I bet you think you don't need to read this post. Why would you? You've had arguments before, so you can probably figure it out.


That's what you think.

In reality, your written arguments are stilted and unrealistic (like most fictional arguments are...Don't feel too bad about it). Now, there are two ways to fix this glaring issues:

1) Pick a really mean, really loud argument with a family member or roommate. Secretly record said argument. Play it over and over and try to mimics the emotions, vocabulary, body language, and reasoning behind everything said and done in your verbal battle. And also start looking for somewhere else to live because dang. You'll be lucky if they let you live in the doghouse.

2) Read this article.
Hannah Heath: 8 Tips for Writing Arguments
You picked 2, didn't you? Wise choice.

1. Take your character's personality into account. A lot of writers don't do this. You do realize that not everybody argues the same way? Some people are very frigid and logical in their arguments. Some are emotional. Some wave their hands. Others don't. Most dredge up old arguments and hurt feelings, but some don't explicitly state that that's what they're doing or thinking. Some won't talk it out, while others just yell. Some people don't argue: They just let the issue simmer and it leads to passive aggressive behavior. There are many other. Figure out how your character argues and then see how it matches with the other person/people they are arguing with.

2. Make sure your dialogue doesn't suck. Go read this blog post to improve your dialogue writing skills.

3. Give background. Build up tension before the actual argument. J.K. Rowling does an excellent job of this: There are hurt feelings, small jabs, and tense situations that take place before the actual verbal argument. If you want the argument to have force, start building it up before it happens. Do this in same way that you would build up to a climax.

4. Give them a reason for fighting. Nobody likes it when characters argue over contrived or idiotic things. It leaves the reader disliking both characters, so unless your goal is for your fans (soon to be ex-fans) to make this face:
Then try giving them each legitimate points. Then your readers will feel more engaged in the argument and the characters.

5. Create a skeleton argument, then add filler. A what? A skeleton argument. It looks like this:

Bob: I'm angry because Anne lied to me about ____.
Anne: I'm hurt that Bob can't believe that I had his best interests in mind.
Bob: Relationships only work if there is communication and I don't think Anne cares about that.
Anne: Maybe I would communicate more if I felt that Bob wouldn't flip out and behave rashly.

There's the skeleton. The main points of the argument. That being said, nobody argues this way. If they did, the arguments probably wouldn't last so long or get so nasty. That's what the filler is for: All of the ways that the characters will go about skirting around the issue. Bob may say that he has never lied to Anne, then Anne may bring up that one time he did, which will lead to a new, off-topic, but no-less-nasty argument. It'll eventually (and hopefully quickly, otherwise your reader will get bored) loop back around to Anne pointing out that she was trying to help. She'll say something to the effect that Bob never takes control and she always has to do things for him, and he'll say that's because she won't work as part of a team and on and on and on. Got it? The skeleton is helpful because it allows you as the writer to keep the argument tethered to the main points while allowing their conversation to have a realistic, meandering quality.

6. Treat your argument like a mini plot. Why? Because it is a mini plot. Let me show you: You have all of the ingredients:
  • Inciting incident: tension and issues leading up to the argument. An example being how Harry's constant popularity and not-always-super-considerate attitude can rub Ron wrong (Harry Potter). 
  • Rising action: the initiation of the actual argument. Like when Nancy starts getting annoyed with Steve for trying to move on with their lives and relationship after Barb's death (Stranger Things, Season 2).
  • Climax: the point where at least one character reveals something important about their argument, themselves, or the plot. An example being when Rocket Raccoon yells: "Well, I didn't ask to get made!" Not only did this explain his insecurities and reasons for always arguing with people, but it also created sympathy for him (Guardians of the Galaxy). 
  • Falling action: tension after the argument that are still there, but not existing inside of an explicit argument. The constant tension between Aragorn and Legolas after the "Then I shall die as one of them!" is a good example of this one (C'Mon. If I have to tell you what this is from, we're going to have issues). 
Pay special attention to the climax. It is important because it tips the reader off as to what the argument is truly about...or how the argument will change things for the rest of the story. A lot of arguments, oddly enough, leave this part out, thus begging the question: Was that argument really necessary? What was the point?

7. Don't be afraid of them. Look. People argue. It happens. It's totally fine for your characters to argue. In fact, if your characters don't argue, there's probably something wrong with your character development or tension creation (or both). So don't shy away from uncomfortable tension or conversation. It keeps your readers engaged.

Oh, and a bonus tip to give your arguments a point of interest:

8. Give your characters something else to do while arguing. Maybe they're doing laundry. Maybe they're forging a weapon. Maybe they're fixing a time machine. Give them something to do as they argue to break things up a bit. Not only does this keep you from having pure dialogue (which can get a bit repetitive), but it also gives you more room to play with body language, gestures, and eye contact.  

And there you have it. Luckily for you, I have and write a lot of arguments, so I'm pleased to be able to put my experiences to good use. Do you have any tips you would add? Ones you would take away? Do you struggle with writing arguments? I'd love to hear your thoughts on the matter!

Related articles:
Writing Dialogue: What You're Doing Wrong (And How to Fix It)
5 Tips for Creating Complex Characters

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  1. Oh, I LOVE writing arguments!!! I already do some of these tips, but others I've never heard of, like giving the argument a climax. In my WIP, there's a character who loves to start arguments. He always knows just the right things to say to rub other characters the wrong way and make an argument over something small suddenly blow up. I had a lot of fun writing him. :D

  2. Wow very timely post, I just wrote an argument yesterday between my MC and his girlfriend! It was a fairly short argument, but I am pleased to say I did a pretty good job according to this post. (Yay me)
    I also have a book recommendation for you. I know you're a Christian as well as a Christian author, and I think you might enjoy The Epic Order of the Seven series by Jenny L. Cote. The series is basically about seven animals who God made immortal so they could help him throughout history. The series started at Noah's Ark, followed the entire Bible, and is now moving on to the Revolutionary War Era. (As a note the first two books are not in The Epic Order of the Seven they are in The Amazing Tales of Max and Liz.)

    These are all really helpful points! Now I need to go back and fix the argument I wrote... :/

  4. I just wrote an argument scene last week for my NaNoWriMo novel and it came out horrible. I'll going to use these tips to help me make it better. Thanks, Hannah.

  5. Dear Madam Hannahheath,
    I hope you would be fine .

    Thanks for sharing writing tips and i will try to follow accordingly
    and in a same way I expect your guidance moral support regarding writing

    Thanks and regards.
    Birahmani Ghulam Haider

  6. Thank you! I needed this! I’m terrible a writing arguments, but somehow I wound myself up into this mess:

    I have a small fantasy series I’m working on (though it’s mostly still in the plotting stage). In the first book all three of my MCs hate each other and would rather not have to work together. One just wants to go home, another has better things to do, and the third just thinks this is boring and would be rather doing other things as well. But they all have their reasons for being there. There is bickering all through it and naturally this situation would lead to a few full out arguments.

    I can write bickering and bantering pretty well. But as I said before, I’m terrible at writing actual arguments and I’ve always felt awkward when I’ve tried. So this will be very helpful and referenced often! Thank you!

  7. I needed help with my arguments, so thank you for your pointers. Now let's see if I can make my arguments authentic...

  8. Interesting points to follow. The character who argues in my WIP has a firey personality to begin with. She argues with everyone, but it gets worse as the main bad guy takes away pretty much everything she has. I wonder what your take would be on an argumentative character who is feeling more desperation due to the seemingly overwhelming defeat she is going through. Her Dad's sheephold, her three dogs, her life, almost, and her homeland (this is happening in an invasion of her homeland). She's not the MC but is like the second most important character. Any thoughts?


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