High Intensity Dialogue 205-05

4. Debate

A silhouette of 2 figures sitting and talking.
Medium to High Complexity
Medium Intensity
Medium to High Importance

Debates are a little more intense, a little more conflict driven. Where a focused conversation has at least one invested character, debates have at least two, each with their own position. Debates are, in many ways, a median between focused discussion and argument. A focused discussion may transition into debate on the way to becoming an argument, just as an argument may downgrade to a debate or even a focused discussion.

Perhaps one of the most defining features of a debate is both/all characters involved feel like they already know most or all of the relevant facts. They are citing what they know in an effort to convince someone else, but they themselves are very confident in their position.

The other key characteristic of a debate is the intensity. Characters are invested in this conversation, but they are still in control. Passion may be prominent, but characters are still relying on logic and reason to make their position clear.

5. Argument

Varying Complexity
High Intensity
High Importance

Arguments are a reaction to something. Some arguments start out as another type of conversation, and they escalate. Others start because someone has learned something, or realized something, and that has aroused their emotions, prompting them to “start” an argument, blindsiding the other person. The key is an argument is always emotional, and it’s always in reaction to something else.

Arguments are not about logic or reason, they are not about learning something or explaining something. They are about intense emotions being expressed, usually anger or sadness. A character is upset, they blame someone else, and short of physical actions, this is how they express their pain. But, not all arguments are between the “victim” and the “perpetrator”. Sometimes a person is upset, but they are talking to a third party.

For example, in one of the later Harry Potter books, Hermione becomes quite angry with Ron, and Harry, as third member of the circle, ends up listening to much of her anger.

Arguments rarely last long. Typically a character either gets it out of their system and calms down, or become so upset that they’re unable to speak, and simply cry or rage.

Arguments are a great way to reveal secrets. In the midst of all those intense emotions, a character blurts something out. Maybe it’s an honest but unflattering opinion, or maybe it’s a fact that they’ve never revealed until now. Whatever it is, it tests the relationship, beginning a new subplot conflict, as the characters involved quietly stew in a mixture of anger and/or regret, until they either reconcile and begin the healing process, or accept that their relationship will never completely recover.

6. Important Information

Medium to High Complexity
Medium Intensity
High Importance

These conversations are often one-sided, with one character sharing information with others. There’s usually a medium intensity, as characters gain new perspective on what is happening, but typically it’s more “shock” than hostility, and typically there’s little conflict beyond “why didn’t you tell us sooner?” Sometimes the new information is so potent that characters may feel betrayed, and the conversation may shift into a debate or argument, but more often the emotions characters feel are dismay/shock, as they struggle to understand how this new information changes things.

Scenes featuring an important information conversation are often a “small climax” that sets the stage for a larger one. Examples include when Harry and company realize what is hidden in the forbidden third floor corridor (Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s/Sorcerer’s Stone), or when numerous characters learn the truth of the ring in Rivendell (Fellowship of the Ring).

It’s not the climax of the story, but it does serve as a type of minor climax, the end of one piece of the story, and the beginning of the next. The new information doubles as the “new goal” for the characters, the next step on their journey.

7. Impassioned Speech

An image of a man at a lectern.
Low to Medium Complexity
High Intensity
High Importance

Perhaps one of the least common forms of conversation in fiction. Some stories have one, others have none, but if it happens, it happens during a particular low. A group of characters have fallen, and they may not have the strength to get up and try again, until one of them starts to speak. They admit to the fears and weaknesses that tempt others to give up, but they also cite the need to keep trying. They speak with passion, their words are well chosen, and by the end they have ignited a fire in everyone around them.

Next Time…
Unique Voices, Using Dialogue to Reveal Character

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