"Don't you dare try and twist my words around and make yourself seem like you're not a backstabbing, two-faced bitch." (Or, How to Argue)
I find it odd how I can write about people being maimed and killed in explosions or through axe-wielding zombie Nazis or I can sit around thinking about how a telekinetic can kill someone in the most terrible of ways, but after writing one intense argument between two of my main characters, I feel displaced from the world and need to take a shower to calm my red-facedness down.
Admittedly, this was an argument-to-destroy-a-friendship thing and drawing it out bit by bit was one of the most difficult things I've ever done. And it's not even finished, it's just sitting there on my desktop in script format. It's not even going to be in the damn book.
This scene has existed for three years now. I formulated the whole concept of it at thirteen, when I first started to string this novel of mine together. I never wrote it. I didn't even know what was said or how emotional it got or even what subjects it touched on - I just knew the outcome and I knew the general message of it. Three years. Three years I worked on this book and I never wrote this scene because I knew I wasn't ready. Until today.
If you look around on the internet, there are a million and one how-to's on how to write a fight scene with swords or fists or guns. If you call out for them Rocky Balboa style, the damn things will converge on you like fat kids on a birthday cake. However, if you did about as in-depth a search as I did, you'll find nothing of any real help about writing arguments.
People are messy. It's hard to try and empathise with two sides of an argument, especially if it's very personal for your characters. But you have to admit, the best drama on TV is usually surrounded by conflict that results in a lot of "bitch"-calling and slapping. But writing great argument scenes is based entirely on your mood. It's not something you should go into unless you're prepared to get worked up, hot and red in the face and so uneasy that you need to stand under a hot shower. So, I'm here, rambling and instructing. Enjoy.
Be aware of your surroundings.
You need to stage your scene before you even start to consider writing it or slipping in witty one liners. (Don't hide it. We all do it.) There is a monumental difference between a fight that happens in the living room and a fight that happens in the middle of the mall. No matter who someone is (unless they are fearless), there is a place that they will never dream of reaching. They wouldn't even consider it. Whether it be yelling at a certain volume, or physically slapping someone, or using certain curse words. You need to set your characters' boundaries before they begin. Depending on where they are, you'll also know how "into" it they'll get. There may be the one who's willing to argue with a microphone in their hand, but there is also the person that will try and delay an argument until they're in private.
The better they know each other the bigger your boundaries.
My characters, in their late teens, have known and lived with each other since they were seven. He has healed her wounds and brought her back from near death. She has cooked him food and consoled him and folded his god damn undies. This only gives them more ammunition to fire at one another when their argument gets heated up. I'm telling you straight up: this fight I just wrote is ugly. It is ugly and I would hate to have been in it. There is nothing classy about what they have to say to one another, and it is a big, long attack on one another's personalities. But it makes for good drama, it makes for effective drama.
But that's not to say that characters that know little about one another can't have effective drama. In fact, that's probably an ideal situation to show characterisation and to drop bombshells of personal information in an emotional climate. You've got the we got married in Vegas after dating for two weeks couple, or the dorm room mates for a month best friends, or the brand spanking new step brother or brother in law. And if you've got this situation, then you know there is always the "you know nothing about me" card that you can pull at any given time. Use it wisely.
The past should stay in the past until they get desperate.
This links pretty closely with the whole "the better they know each other", but it does deserve to stand on its own. Especially with best friends and couples, the past serves as a weapon, a nuclear weapon that if dropped can decimate everything. If your scene is a relapse into something that goes hand-in-hand with the past, then you should be rubbing your hands together and screaming "Gold!" If you scroll down, you'll probably find the part where I reference all these amazing fights and whatever, and when you get to it, there's one from One Tree Hill.
I am a huge Sophia Bush fan; she is crazy talented and deserves stardom for her emotional scenes on this show. In fact, she pulls these scenes out constantly about this one conflict, the love triangle between her, her best friend Peyton, and Lucas Scott. The quote in the title is said by her. You see, Brooke (Sophia's character) has fallen in love with Lucas a couple of times, and every single time, Peyton steals him and destroys Brooke and their friendship. But then it mends. In one of the confrontations between her and Lucas, he brings up the time he forgave Brooke for sleeping with this other guy. Now, this scene was in an old episode and it was an incredibly romantic scene where she and Lucas got back together. And the fact that he brings it up, after he has kissed Peyton again, gives the scene a whole new level.
Are you understanding me? Under stressful situations, people can reference things that they think will stop the blame from being piled on them. Or they'll say it to hurt the other person. This can be really effective if your reader has already encountered whatever you're referencing. But it is also a great characterisation tool if you need to give your character a bit of depth. If you need to throw of your reader's perception of said character.
Violence should be a last resort for emphasis.
Someone once told me that a slap can be used to break "angry" tension and introduce sexual tension (that it is more or less a symbolic orgasm); they used the example of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Used before the snap of aggression, this would introduce intense release. That's all and well, but there are other reasons why I think you should hold back on the slap.
It's a cliche. Don't fight me on this, you know it's true. Girls slapping each other, it's a given. But girl slaps guy while they fight is just yawn. Violence also characterises significantly. Just like how the Joker said that someone's last moments show their true selves, so do serious, heated arguments. A guy who lashes out and strikes a girl? Remember: your readers are watching, and they are judging, they are judging a lot.
Swearing should only be used to show a turn in conversation.
If you've ever run a 200 metre race, you know that you kick on the turn. So, if you're going to drop the F-Bomb, it needs to be the moment you kick. I have no problem with "bitch" and "shit", because normal people toss those around all the time. It's the big ones. The really offensive ones that would make your mother's eyes drop out of her head and her ears melt off her body.
But at the same time, swearing should also be used fittingly. Think of it like this. I watched Ben Affleck's The Town today, which had "fuck" being thrown around all the time. However, the frequency in which it appeared in the chase scene, where they pile into the getaway car, made it really effective. You knew this was bad. You knew that shit had gone down that shouldn't have. I think this is a good point to raise with characters who swear and curse and grunt like sailors on the high seas; there's no reason to restrain your F-Bombs with these guys. It'll just put them out of character. And then there's JK Rowling's Molly Weasley. People bring her up all the time, but it is just such as great scene when she screams in all-caps: "NOT MY DAUGHTER YOU BITCH!" and goes on a rampage. You know that she is pissed off as hell. For example, I have a character who swears all the time, but substitutes cutsey words and terms in so it doesn't sound so bad even if it is insulting. When she gets really riled up, her potty mouth disappears and she uses sporadic and common curse words. Instead of calling someone a "sphincter-cannon", she calls them a "bitch".
Don't stop once you get going.
Stopping a scene when you're beginning to feel for each of the characters, and you're as desperate and you're clinging to each of their stories and each of their sides and you know exactly what the result of this argument is going to bring...You're going to lose it. An argument is an argument, if you could actually leave and return to your own arguments, the world would be very different. You know how when you've just walked away and then you think of the perfect comeback? That my friend is an emotional copout. If you just write and you enable yourself to feel, you'll get the stupid comments and the poor comebacks and the raw anger and desperation that is realistic in an argument.
Once you can step back and see the argument as a whole, and as a third-party who is now detached from the matter, you can begin to cut and replace and such.
Research. If you get stuck, research.
I know for a fact that I am not a confrontational person. Maybe if I underwent some of the shit that authors put their MCs through I'd develop into one, but the current, content me is not a confrontational person. The current, content me is a twiddle my thumbs and try and figure out why they hate me person. Thereby, I look for inspiration. I tend not to look toward books, as film stimulus usually gives you more to absorb, more to contemplate. I'm about to hand you some terrible things, so try not to judge me. (I also apologise in advance for any poor quality)
One Tree Hill
In all of these scenes, there is some great acting going on, particularly on Sophia's part. There are some dud lines, but overall, it's pretty great for making your emotions start swirling and words start forming in your head.
1. In Season 3, Brooke and Lucas fight at a wedding when she discovers that he has cheated on her again with her best friend, Peyton. Link.
2. In Season 5, Peyton and Lucas fight about how she refused him when he proposed to her a year ago and that he's brought his new fiance to town. Link.
3. In Season 3, Brooke confronts Peyton after Peyton tells her she has feelings for Lucas. (1:06 is one of my all time favourite "angry lines"). Link.
4. In Season 4, Brooke and Peyton destroy their friendship in a huge argument about their different relationships and how they've treated one another. Link.
5. In Season 5, Peyton squares off against Lucas' fiance Lindsay in a very bitchy sing-a-long that turns into a pretty intense confrontation. (Look out for spirit fingers!) Link.
This movie, or, this scene (I'm plastering a big MA 15+ on this for language) is, perhaps, the greatest break up I have ever seen. It's incredible. The way that it is executed is realistic and emotional; it includes some pretty foul language and racy topics that are used in a way that doesn't even breed a thought about trashiness. The acting is also mind-blowing. Both Clive Owen and Julia Roberts execute some fantastic lines. Link.
I'm sorry that I only have one clip to give you, but the majority of YouTube Gossip Girl clips are about kissing and romping and whatever. You should know that if you're interested, some of Leighton Meester's best acting comes out in the scenes where Blair chews someone out and gets angry and personal.
1. In Season 1, Blair pretty well foreshadows the entire show when she confronts Serena about how she takes everything from Blair. You may as well watch the whole thing to get some perspective, but the confrontation itself takes place around 2:00. Link.
I feel like I can't talk about arguments and intense fights without mentioning this movie.
1. Their break up at the sort-of beginning outside Allie's house. This couple, particularly in this scene, show a whole confusing and shocking turn that would be must see viewing for anyone writing people who bicker a lot. Link.
2. This is toward the end, and is pretty good viewing. Link.
And with this I bid you adieu. Any further comments on how to write arguments? Post them below.