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  1. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    Staging an argument

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by cazann34, Oct 13, 2013.

    I'm writing a short story where the opening scene is an argument between a couple. The woman is complaining that the man doesn't appreciate her any more, that he never says 'thank you' or shows his appreciation in any way. She says he's become complacent after twelve years together and she's had enough, and after alot of posturing and thrashing about she finally walks out on him.
    My problem is I don't know how to progress with the argument. I'm having trouble with the dialogue. How does the man reply? what does he say to try to appease the woman? how does she react to this? Baring in mind he has to do badly because she leaves at the end of the scene.
    Can anyone help?
     
  2. SarahD
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    SarahD Member

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    I suppose it depends entirely on how many times they've had this argument.

    If this is the first time she's told him how she feels then he can be genuinely stunned and not sure how to respond to her.

    If they've had this argument lots of time and he has a similar feeling that she isn't noticing when he's trying, then he may not want to appease her.

    Don't forget the simple fact that he's a man and she's angry, at that point in time it doesn't matter what he says / does, it's always going to be wrong!
     
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  3. obsidian_cicatrix
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    obsidian_cicatrix I ink, therefore I am. Contributor

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    Also... when the argument erupts has she, in fact, already made up her mind? Is she stating her reasons once more for the record? People often say they've had enough, when what they are trying to do, is cause a strong enough emotional reaction to force change. Was it her intention from the start to walk away? Or was there there an event, that triggered the argument in the first place and brought it all to a head. Or did it come from nowhere?

    Has he become complacent, or has it got to the point where he just doesn't care? Asking questions like these will help direct your thoughts.

    I tend to have a good idea of my characters' personalities prior to putting them in situations like these, so I generally don't find myself stuck when it comes to dialogue. It's like with my friends, I know them well enough to anticipate how they will react to situations. Occasionally they surprise, but generally, not. It might help to try and relate each character to someone you know, or other characters you've come across in books, films etc. Then ask yourself how they would react.
     
  4. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    This part, right here, is what strikes me. Picture yourself on both sides of this argument. They've been together 12 years, which is a significant amount of time. Obviously there are A LOT of things that have pushed her to leave. His view is likely that everything has been just fine, and his takeaway from this line is something along the lines of "she's leaving me after 12 years together because I don't say 'thank you' enough?" Or, "Here I was, sitting with her at the cafe, everything was fine, she hands me the cream, and all of a sudden she's yelling at me because I didn't thank her."

    Think about what you would say.
     
  5. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    One book you might find helpful is Getting into Character: Seven Secrets a Novelist Can Learn from Actors, by Brandilyn Collins. See Chapter 3, "Subtexting." The basic idea is that conflict in dialogue is usually driven not by what the characters say but by what they don't say. Those unspoken parts are the subtext of the dialogue are are conveyed through narrative. Collins gives examples and explains in detail.
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2013
  6. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Arguments usually stem from the most mundane moments like someone forgetting to tighten a pickle jar lid.
    But are then escalated to faults, regrets, failures and name calling. Maybe look to your setting
    for inspiration and not have it be so much as what's being said but in her or his little reactions.
    If it's a kitchen - comments could be - why do you let this counter get so cluttered? Me? That's your
    unused cappuccini machine...
    The man's replies/reactions all depends on his character. If he's a little clueless - he could be
    bewildered. If he's a little selfish - he could be defensive and combative. If he's had a rough day
    - he could be snappish. Also how's her range of attack, quiet, snappish, fed up, relentless?
     
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  7. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Very true. Sometimes, even a joke or a bit of teasing can touch it off. Also keep in mind that some of the worst arguments escalate because of things that one or the other person has previously decided, "I'm not going to make a big thing out of this" or "I just have to understand this is how (s)he is", only to find that (s)he doesn't really have the patience or forbearance for it. And when that happens, the emotion is worse because of the frustration of having kept it inside.

    Also, if he decides he's being the calm and rational one after she's gotten into said emotional state...Fire in the paint locker!!
     
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  8. criticalsexualmass
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    criticalsexualmass Active Member

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    When you've been together 12 years, no argument is a surprise to both parties. At least one of the couple has rehearsed the argument in their head while driving to work, mowing the lawn, or washing the dishes. When blindsided, we either lash out or retreat. My wife will whack me with one of these arguments that i don't expect but she's been planning, and I'll just take it, say I'm sorry, assume she's had a bad day. Wait for her to apologize for the attack. If she doesn't, well... I plan the next argument. Passive aggressive is one of the most irritating traits a spouse can have. But if she's walking out, and he doesn't expect it, it raises other questions. By that I mean, if she's this unhappy, there are like a million signs. Is he too self absorbed to see them? Or is she the one that's been passive aggressive all this time? Did he notice and ignore the signs? Did he try to change? You have to look within the character you created to answer your own question. It sounds to me like you don't fully know your own character yet. You might skip this part, write the rest of the story, then come back when you know him better. That works well in my writing.ymmv
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2013
  9. jazzabel
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    jazzabel Contributing Member Contributor

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    I'm always a big fan of subtext. The things he doesn't say to reassure her. Answers that aren't forthcoming that should be. Body language. Arguing about a more superficial issue by avoiding a deeper or more upsetting one. Implications as to why these two are at each others throat, which aren't stated clearly. That kind of thing.
     
  10. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Precisely.

    Text: "Casablanca is on TV tonight. We could make a bowl of popcorn."

    Subtext: "Don't you remember? That was the movie we saw on our first date. You were so loving and caring then, Kevin. What happened to us? I just want you to sit with me on the couch and watch a movie. Maybe put your arm around me, like you did back then. Are we so far gone that we can't just watch a movie together?"

    The drama and conflict aren't primarily in the text, the dialogue. They're in the subtext. If you can get that across, you have dialogue that lives and breathes.
     
  11. Fatback
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    Fatback Banned

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    Oh ho ho.... A topic tailor made for me. Oh so simple.... The man talks about how many hours he's putting in at the office, shop, site and or saloon... He goes on to rant about all the expenditures his mate is guilty of... All the gifts... All the unnecessary purchases.... The lack of sexual activity and the fact that relationships are two way streets... Yeah that will do it.... At least in my case it does.
     
  12. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    @Fatback, I have a request. Between the orange font and the italics, your posts are almost impossible for me to read. Plain black works so much better. Warm regards and thanks.
     
  13. Fatback
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    Fatback Banned

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    Now why would you... The illustrious Ed make such a selfish request? The Fatback has always written in orange... Call it an ode to hard fought victories... A reminder of the time I spent in the house with no windows and the abuse I suffered and persevered through. I'm sure some believe my refusal to submit is nothing more than childish stubbornness but I assure you, that is not the case. I kept in tact my sanity.... I simply cannot betray myself and give up the orange color or Italic font.While I sympathize with your point of view... I must sternly tell you No... Don't ever ask that of me again.
     
  14. Wreybies
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    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Contest Administrator Supporter Contributor

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    Any member of this forum may ask any question they wish at any time they please so long as it does not violate the forum rules or present a disruption to the venue. It is not for you to dictate to anyone in this forum.

    Tread lightly.
     
  15. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    I like the orange italics. It gives me an instant visual alert of content not worth reading.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2013
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  16. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    I think using anything other than the standard black un-italic is childish and attention seeking, anyway...

    getting back to the argument, what is the wife's intention? Has she met someone else? Is this an excuse to leave? Is she depressed? Does she suspect him of something? What reaction is she hoping for? Does she want him to treat her like he did? Does she want him to work less, go to less games? Stop eating pizza?

    While she's in this foul mood picking arguments, nothing he says is going to appease her!
     
  17. Fatback
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    Fatback Banned

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    Correct and he asked me once... Which I replied to with a resounding unquestionable No.... Why would he ask me again unless he intended to present a disruption? Answer... He wouldn't... So what was your point again? I'm not sure what it is you have against me or why you feel the need to warn me when I was... For my part... Avoiding disruption by killing the subject. I have no problem following the rules and wouldn't mind discussing this further in a more private setting
     
  18. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    (Shrugs)

    So, @Fatback becomes the first member of this forum for me ever to "Ignore" (ie. not be able to see), thereby assuring that the orange italics will cause me no further discomfort.

    It's not personal. It's eyesight.
     
  19. David K. Thomasson
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    David K. Thomasson Contributing Member

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    Thanks for reminding me that this feature is available. I also put Fathead on "Ignore." End of a very short soap opera.
     
  20. EdFromNY
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    EdFromNY Hope to improve with age Supporter Contributor

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    Glad to be of service.
     
  21. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    I enjoy his orange font.
    Love that color.

    @cazann34
    Well, the way I see it, the man would be defensive and have a pocketload of reasons why he did or didn't do things. He'd probably try to shift blame to her at some point too.
    No matter how rational or how clear her points may be, the man would probably think she is imagining things or is asking for things he does give her (just not from her point of view).
     
  22. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Or maybe he just doesn't care anymore, wants an excuse to get out and just shrugs his shoulders, "Whatever... If you don't like me you know what to do. Doesn't your sister have a spare room? I'll happily call you a cab..."
     
  23. A.M.P.
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    A.M.P. People Buy My Books for the Bio Photo Supporter Contributor

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    With that kind of attitude, I think the fight would have broken out earlier than 12 years in unless it was very recent but then the wife would have little cause to get upset.
    Maybe he did lose interest but I doubt he'd put it so bluntly.
     
  24. cazann34
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    cazann34 Active Member

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    @SarahD:
    Thanks for the questions/ideas, its helped me think more deeply about the situation and the characters. I have come up with this:
    He does want to appease her, he needs her but he's had enough of the same old arguments and finally reckons he should just give her wants she wants and allow her to leave. Which of course he regrets. And the rest of the story is his monologue. First he's glad she's gone-he never needed her any way, he can do just fine on his own. But as time passed he regrets his choice and remembers the good times: them working together way into the night and begins to miss her soft voice and guiding hand.


    @ obsidian. :
    That is a very good question. As you said:
    Thanks your comment helped me think as did the post above.

    @chicagoliz:
    She has been helping him with his work for 12 years, she's pissed because he doesn't appreciate her help not for not saying 'thank you' for passing the cream. Sorry for not making that clear but I didn't want too give much away.

    @David K:
    Thanks for citing the book title and author. The subtext? what is NOT said? yes that is very helpful. Thanks.

    @critcalsexualmass: (great name BTW)
    Yes he is, he has thought of himself these past 12 years and has very little praise for her even though she helped him become the man he is today. (can't say too much it would ruin the ending.)

    @ A.M.P:
    Nice angle. This is from his point of view. And that is a obvious come back to a argument of: you don't appreciate me any more. Your imaging things.

    @ Fatback:
    Nice speech. Sadly it won't do for this story. This is not a conventional couple. All is not what it seems.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2013
  25. rhduke
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    rhduke Contributing Member Reviewer

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    I have to agree that most arguments arise from the stupidest things.. from a real life example, this might help you frame your argument:

    --

    She scowls. "Did you clean that knife first?"

    "No."

    "You just used it on the meat and now you're putting it in the butter."

    No response.

    Raises voice. "Don't do that, honey. Clean the knife before so you don't get the butter all dirty." She scoffs. "You do the same thing with the margarine and mustard. Why do you do that?"

    "Will you take it easy? There's already enough dishes. I don't want to make anymore."

    "You don't have to get another knife, just wash it." Points to the sandwich. "And look! Use a plate for god's sake. Now there's crumbs everywhere." She groans and walks away. After a moment she storms back into the kitchen. "Look, I don't want salmonella in the butter. Think, honey. Will you please think."

    "Don't talk to me like that." He grabs the sandwich and walks away.

    "There you go walking away when I'm talking to you again." She's yelling now. "You stupid man. Always grunting and messing up the whole kitchen. You never listen."

    He turns around. "Honey..."

    "No! Just go back and hide in the basement! You never want to talk to me anymore. You don't care about me. I'm your wife for god's sake. You're supposed to listen to me. Never mind, just go away." She storms past him and up the stairs.

    ----

    See, the man doesn't have to do much for the wife to storm away in a fury.
     
    Last edited: Oct 24, 2013

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