Say your characters are standing before the moss-draped opening of a dark, gloomy cave, and they’re deciding whether or not to go in.
You know they need to, because there’s a glimmering, all-powerful gem in that cave they need to find (as well as a nine-legged creature with slobbery fangs and poison barbs guarding it.) The question is, how do they get into the cave?
Character A saying, “Let’s go in” and Characters B and C nodding and saying, “Sure, that sounds good” might get them through the door, but it doesn’t lend much by way of excitement — or character development.
Agreeing, in fiction, isn’t nearly as exciting as disagreeing.
Character A may want to hurry into the cave because he’s impatient to prove himself, never mind that Character B admits she’s hesitant. Character B could be scared to enter, because it’s dark, and gloomy, and there’s a legend of a nine-limbed creature with poison barbs that lurks inside.
A could bully B into getting over her fear, and C could chime in, displaying sympathy. “If B’s scared, she doesn’t have to do it,” he insists.
This sets B off, because she never said she was scared, only hesitant. Suddenly B, cheeks flushing with embarrassment, is insisting it’s fine, let’s just get in there already. Victorious, A leads the way inside without caring that B’s bravery might not be genuine, and C trails behind, worried not only of what lies ahead, but that their group dynamic might not be healthy — and might lead to even bigger problems later on.
An argument like that, achieved in a very short space of time, adds a lot more to the story than “Wanna go in?” “Yeah okay.” Don’t be afraid to let your characters challenge each other. The straightest line between two plot points might not be the most fun to travel. Give each character their own motivations and agendas, and when it comes to making decisions, let them duke it out!
(Devil’s Advocate: Beware, however, of characters who bicker endlessly and pointlessly! While disagreements can reveal character depth, they’re only effective if there is character depth to reveal. If your characters are constantly arguing for no reason, the reader will quickly find them obnoxious, tiring, and repetitive. Make sure your characters fight to propel the plot forward or reveal previously hidden motivations. They have to fight because there’s something worth fighting about!)
Writers out there, do you have your characters squabble endlessly, or do they tend to get along? What’s the most entertaining argument you’ve ever written? Leave a comment below, let’s talk!
And, if you’re a writer who blogs about your work, consider joining WIP Wednesdays, a blog link up for writers to post (read: gush) about their works in progress, based on a weekly theme! Upcoming themes can be found here!
An earlier version of this post was originally shared on my old blog, Christina Writes.