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How to Make an Argument Tense in Fiction


A story is typically born out of conflict, but, writing tense scenes may seem difficult since many people try to avoid conflict in their daily lives. In the case of an argument between characters, a writer must keep the scene wrought with tension while not losing track of the plot and other story elements. Knowing a few ways to help make an argument scene more tense may help you pull everything together.

Dialogue

Dialogue makes a big impact when writing an argument scene. You should make sure that your characters are using words or phrases that fit with their personality. However, if a character who never uses foul language suddenly uses a particular word, this could increase the tension if you make sure the other character responds. This could be a moment of shock, or the foul word may cause the other character to become angrier. When you finish writing a scene, read it out loud to hear how it sounds. You may find that some of the lines do not sound like they belong. Listen to your writer’s instinct and edit these areas until they sound natural.

Actions

You may choose to also have a character make specific movements during the argument. One of your characters may have a habit of pacing, so you can let her pace. If she is upset enough, she may poke the other character in the chest or make some other action that would indicate the level of her frustration. Try not to exaggerate movements or keep a character performing an action such as pacing for long periods of time. This can dull the argument and make the character less believable.

Raise the Stakes

One of the most important elements to increase tension in an argument is to raise the stakes. If your characters are arguing about when to have a child, for example, consider what is at stake if they wait or if they have one now. Perhaps she wants to wait to keep from losing her chance at a promotion. Instead of this, increase the stakes. Now she is worried she will lose her job, and then she will be unable to help support their family. Take whatever is at the heart of your characters’ argument and make the potential outcome more of a hardship. This translates to the reader, particularly when he is invested in your characters and their story.

Exercise

If you find that you are struggling with a scene, ask two friends to act it out. Give them a brief history of the characters and let them know what is at stake for each person in the argument. If possible, record the conversation or take detailed notes about what each character says. This will help you discover a line or two of dialogue that increases the tension and pulls your story together. Also pay close attention to the actors’ movements. You won’t want to include every subtle action, but you may see something that helps define a character or the argument itself.

References
  • Making Shapely Fiction; Jerome Stern
  • Writing Fiction; Janet Burroway
About the Author

Kate Beck started writing for online publications in 2005. She worked as a certified ophthalmic technician for 10 years before returning to school to earn a Masters of Fine Arts degree in writing. Beck is currently putting the finishing touches on a novel.

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