As I mentioned in last Wednesday’s post, work on my current manuscript that I am supposed to be buffing and polishing in preparation for pitching at RWA Nationals has been derailed by a new story idea that is refusing to patiently wait its turn in the pending idea file.
Part of the allure – other than the “fun of discovery” vs. the “hard work of wrestling a story into shape” – is that it combines two of my current passions: story and politics.
The heroine, a reporter, wants to cover the new big, shiny exciting story, but instead gets sent to the middle of nowhere to cover a political campaign that she has no interest in. She and the hero, the under-dog politician battling to unseat an entrenched incumbent, couldn’t be more different. City vs. country. Democrat vs. Republican. Vegan vs. hunter/fisherman. If I was writing a mystery, one of them would likely wind up as a chalk-outline. Fortunately, this is romance, so there will be a happily-ever-after if I have to lock them in a room until they can reach common ground. (Note to self: find room to lock characters in.)
Anyway, in order to get from “cute-meet” to HEA, things have to change for both of them, which is likely to lead some “discussions” (i.e., arguments). There is also the political campaign going on, which means lots of folks with opposing viewpoints that the hero wants to win over to his side. All that conflict is great for the heroine (conflict sells news papers, right?), but it won’t be easy from a relationship perspective. In the beginning of the story, the hero and heroine are likely to butt heads quite a bit, but as it unfolds, they will have to make their way toward some common-ground and successfully influence each other’s thinking (at least a little).
All of that, along with a random discussion I had with someone over the weekend, got me to thinking about argument styles and techniques. Naturally, a Google search was called for, resulting in the loss of countless hours and lots of conflicting advice. There were, however, some common themes regarding unproductive and productive argument techniques. I’m having fun figuring out which techniques my characters will use at various points of the story and determining how their styles will evolve (improve) over time. I’m seeing a “stages of argument” progression, kind of like the “stages of intimacy” progression we’ve talked about here on the blog before.
“Arguments are not just yelling fights. Arguments give reasons, and explain why those reasons are convincing.” ~ The philosophy of arguments
Muddying the water. This is when you’re arguing about one thing but then bring in completely unrelated issues. For example, you and your sister are arguing about whose turn it is to set the table and then you bring up the fact that she borrowed your favorite sweater last week without asking. Muddying the water makes it more likely that the argument will end without anything being resolved.
Making it personal. This is when you focus on the person, instead of their behavior (or belief). For example, going for the “I hate you / you’re a terrible person”, rather than “you really hurt my feelings when you did xxx”. Making it personal means the person you are arguing with may not know what they did to make you angry, making it unlikely that they will change their behavior. Attacking someone’s character or personal traits can also be an attempt to undermine their beliefs or discredit their opinions.
Deflecting blame. Although we’d probably all like to be right 100% of the time, in reality that’s just not the case. Refusing to admit when you’re in the wrong, or deflecting the blame, makes it that much harder to make compromises and reach any kind of satisfactory resolution. Related to this is making excuses and/or flat out refusing to communicate.
Refusing to budge. This is one I saw in action just today. It is when one person in the argument refuses to budge from their initial opinion/position, despite being presented with valid evidence that they just might be wrong. In today’s argument, person #1 stated an opinion, person #2 presented facts that contradicted the opinion, and person #1 responded by saying “you’re wrong” and restating their initial opinion. The exchange was a waste of breath and neither changed their minds in the least.
Listening. It’s not uncommon for a person to be thinking about what they plan to say next when it is not their turn to talk. Unfortunately, that means they’re probably not really listening to what the person who is talking is actually saying. I’ve seen this at work before where one person will keep arguing after the other has agreed with them, because they hadn’t been listening. Actively listening means giving your complete attention to whomever is speaking, and asking questions so you can better understand their thought processes and ideas.
Empathizing. Closely related to listening is exercising empathy. Beliefs can often be rooted in fear, and understanding and empathizing with that fear can be a good first step along the road to compromise. Even when fear is not a factor, taking the time to understand another person’s thought processes and beliefs can lead to better understanding, even if you eventually wind up “agreeing to disagree” on an issue.
Learning. Surprisingly enough, no one has all the answers (or at least all the right answers). Entering an argument with an open mind and/or the willingness to learn something, can lead to a better understanding for all parties involved and can lead to new and/or innovative solutions to problems.
Letting it go. Sometimes, it’s just not worth it to argue. Knowing what’s worth arguing over and what is not could be the most important skill of all.
All of this has given me a lot to think about when it comes to my characters interacting (i.e., arguing). Plus, I uncovered a lot of fascinating stuff on Logical Fallacies while googling around. Maybe I’ll even pick up some pointers or two to use in real-life. After all, I’m sure there is a person or two out on the internet with an opinion that needs to be “corrected.” 🙂
I was raised to be an “argument avoider”, but that’s pretty challenging to do in today’s political environment. So, how about you? Are you an argument avoider or embracer?