I’ve got suspects who argue with police and suspects who argue with each other.
The funny thing about writing arguments is that they’re not at all like real life confrontations.
I don’t like arguing—I’m one of those ‘stony silence’ people. Or sometimes a ‘I’m going along with the group, but really unhappy about it’ person.
But lately, I’m having a few arguments with my rising 7th grader. I suppose this is because he’s entering his teen years. The arguments go something like this (this argument we had yesterday morning while visiting my parents and my parents’ church): Me: "Hey, you can’t wear shorts to Nana and Papa’s church.” My son: “Why not?” Me: “Because then your church shoes will look silly if you’re wearing shorts.” My son: “But I’m not going to wear my church shoes. I’m going to wear my tennis shoes.” Me: “Your tennis shoes look awful! They’re covered in mud!” My son (affronted): “They look just fine. There’s not a spot on them.” Me: “No, no! You’ve got to wear khaki pants and your dressy shoes!” Him: “MOM!!! It’s 90 degrees outside!”
You get the idea. It was a stupid argument. And, actually, most arguments that I’ve observed or participated in, have been ridiculously stupid.
Ways Written Arguments are Different from their Real-Life Counterparts:
They shouldn’t have repetitive elements. Unlike the argument above, which went in circles for at least 10 minutes with both my son and myself reiterating past points about the cleanliness or filthiness of said shoes.
They shouldn’t be boring. Written arguments are there to forward the plot along. They should reveal something about a relationship between two people, give the reader information about a problem, or perhaps even (in the case of mysteries) set up a murder. At any rate, they can’t be about shoes.
They shouldn’t be formulaic. This sort of goes along with the above point. We all know how husbands and wives are supposed to argue: “I think that you’re feeling________, which I understand (validating his/her feelings). But when you do ________, it makes me feel _________.” Well, that’s all well and good for real-life arguments. In fact, it’s an excellent way to argue. It’s just incredibly boring to read. When I’m reading, I expect some fireworks during an argument.
There should be some sort of immediate outcome from the argument. I’m reading a PD James novel now (The Private Patient) and there’s a scene involving an argument between the surgeon and a nurse. The two were having a relationship, which came to an end during the argument. This fight stays in the back of the reader’s mind whenever Ms. James brings the two into a new scene. We realize they feel awkward around each other, we see the way they’re avoiding the other. Arguments could result in breakups, violence, regrets, and escalated tension. They could be used as a device to send the plot in a completely different direction.
Arguments are a great way to provide conflict and tension to a manuscript. I just make sure mine aren’t as unfocused and pointless in print as the verbal variety I’ve engaged in lately.