Confrontational Dialogue

I'll admit, this is my favorite kind to write. It's in-your-face, don't-mess-with-me dialogue. It's what most of us are afraid to say in real life.

In a scene, this kind of dialogue can be refreshing and exciting. I also think this kind of dialogue often forces truths and hidden conflicts to the surface of the scene.

Stein gives an awesome example of this type of dialogue. On page 111 he shares an excerpt from a NYPD Blue scene. A cop just saw a killer let loose on a technicality. The cop makes a stink and the judge says, "We govern by law, not your whim."

Then the cop gets confrontational. He replies, "Don't tell me how you govern. I work your streets. I clean up after how you govern. The way you govern stinks."

I just found an interesting post about adversarial dialogue over at Novel Dog.

How are you with confrontations? Do you like to write them?


Tabitha Bird said…
Ooh I LOVE to write them! Yeah baby, let me tell ya how it is! Okay, sorry, I got carried away.
It is the kind of stuff I wish I had said in real life. And sometimes it is the kind of stuff I wish I had not said in real life. :) Oh well.
Jessica Nelson said…
Wow, Tabitha. I hadn't thought of that, but you're right. Sometimes it is the stuff we wish we hadn't said. Good point.
So... I didn't know you were so peppy about confrontations... *grin*
Jody Hedlund said…
Totally! I think confrontational are SO fun to write! Those kinds of scenes get my blood pumping! Have a great weekend, Jess! And I hope you can find a break through in your writing!
Katie Ganshert said…
I LOVE writing confrontational dialogue. This is when the words just flow for me. Usually when I'm sludging through the word count for the day, it's because I don't have enough conflict or confrontation, and once I find a way to up it, the words flow easier.

Saw you comment on my blog today. I feel ya, girl. It's so frustrating when we have writing time, but can't get ourselves to use it. I've been there MULTIPLE times! I'll be praying tha tyou find your way in your novel and that the words flow!
Krista Phillips said…
Oh, I LOVE LOVE this! I have a scene where my characters did the whole, 'Did too' "Did not" back and forth and then get all heated in their argument... it is one of my FAVORITE!

I guess I argue well.. because my confrontational scenes are the easiest to write!
Oh, I'll spend hours pondering the right come backs. Walk away, go grocery shopping and come back with an even better one. I'm constantly wishing we could put life in those moments in slow motion to give me time to figure out the very best one to spit out at whoever I'm angry at at the time. So, yes, I love writing these scenes.
anita said…
Great post, Jessie! And thanks for the link. It had some wonderful examples. Never considered that comedy is the best place to find this, but thinking on that, it's true! Seinfield is a great example.

I LOVE writing adversarial dialogue (esp. between Hero and Heroine)! Probably because I SO stink at confrontation in real life, so when I have the chance to put it on paper, and really think it through, it becomes fun for me. It's almost a theraputic exercise, getting out the frustration of "I should've said blah or blah during that talk with hubbie, or mom, or kid," etc... This way, I can take all the time I need and come up with those great jabs and witty banter.

I agree with Eileen. If only life had a slo-mo button, we could all talk like that every day. How fun would that be? ;-)
I love to write confrontational dialogue! The more confrontational...the better!!!
Sarah Forgrave said…
Yes, I love writing confrontations! Real-life confrontations? Not my favorite.
Jessica Nelson said…
Yay! I didn't know if I was one of the few who loves them, but evidently not. :-) We're just a bunch of arguers, huh? LOL!
Eileen, I hear you about needing time to come up with the good ones. Like you guys, I have to work my way up to the scene, and then boom! Writing flows. :-)

Jody and Katie, thank you for your well wishes. It's a horrible feeling and I really need to conquer myself right now.

Krista, I could see you getting into it. :-) But not in a bad way, just a passionate way.

Me neither, Sarah. :-)

LOL Donna! You sound so excited about fighting. *snicker*

Hey Anita, I stink at confrontation too. I just want to hide. But in writing, well you know. :-) It would be fun for a while, but then we'd probably really hurt someone and feel horrible.
Mary E Campbell said…
I was trying to think if I'd had any confrontational scenes yet and I remembered I did have one and it was satisfying. I have another one coming up soon and I'm looking forward to it. The conversation keeps bouncing around in my mind.
One of my favorite things to write. Maass, in his Writing the Breakout Novel writes how these scenes are where we can really get creative and have the character say things he/she might not in real life.

So much fun.
~ Wendy
I do like to write them. Sometimes I get carried away in my dialogue, then I look at the page and say, "Wait, he or she didn't really say that! I'm embellishing this to make it sound snappier!" I call it literary license, but a non-fiction writer must be careful, or she hops over the fence into fiction, and I'd rather not go in that fiction field, full of cow patties.
Patti Lacy said…
LOVE confrontations of all kinds and have poured my aggressive personality into my writing. Thank You, Lord! It has helped blood pressure, relationships!!!

Great post--as usual!

Jaymie said…
I didn't think I would like them - I generally dislike confrontation - but I really do. I think it is the energy of a confrontation that makes it fun to write.
Erica Vetsch said…
I always have to gear myself up for a confrontational scene. I'm apt to put it off for a couple of days, psyching myself up for it.

I'm not much for confrontation in real life, and amping up conflict/confrontation in my fiction is one of the things I have to really be conscious of.
Angie Muresan said…
I love this sort of dialogue too, but I have to watch it, as I have a tendency to sound VERY self-righteous.
Linda Kage said…
I am so with you on this issue, Jessica. I love confrontational dialgoue too and you're absolutley get to make your characters say stuff you might've always wanted to say but never had the guts to blurt out.
Cindy R. Wilson said…
I definitely enjoy confrontational dialogue. I love what it reveals about our characters. With my current WIP, it's a challenge because my MC doesn't like these confrontations. She runs away. But there's still revelation in all that she DOESN'T say.
Tana said…
OK, first of all Jessica, you've totally put me in the mood to write a confrontational scene and I'm not even working on a WIP. So if I accidentally start a new WIP today whose fault is that gonna be? Huh? ;)
OK, I'll write a new scene in my edits.
I have a lot of confrontation in my WIP. It can be hard, because there's that little bit of me that holds back. But it's really letting it fly that's most fun - and the most honest. It's crucial to the characters, and the story.
Jessica Nelson said…
Go ahead, blame me T. Anne! LOL As long as I get the credit when you sell the confrontational genius I inspired.... Heehee!

Very, very true, Cindy. Thanks for pointing that out. :-)

Thanks for commenting, Linda. :-) No guts...yep. The most fun characters are the ones who are audacious. But the ones I relate to are the quieter heroines.
Jessica Nelson said…
Janna, I agree that it's crucial. A reader can tell when the depth of the scene is missing, and I think it makes the scene weaker. But yeah, sometimes it hurts dredging up those deep feelings.

LOL Angie!!! I have to be careful too because my characters tend to edge toward complete jerkdom!

It's great that you know this about yourself, Erica. I think that deliberation will make your scenes even better, because you can look at it with an objective eye rather than an emotional one. :-)
Jessica Nelson said…
Wendy, Fun is right!!!

Jeanette, this post doesn't apply to you. *wink* Non-fiction can't be spiced up. LOL But I'll bet yours is fun enough because in your position you've probably encountered many stubborn, confrontational people. :-)

LOL Patti! You have an aggressive personality, huh? :-) Good for you for using it in your stories!

Jaymie, energy is a great word. I think you're right. Thanks for commenting!
Katie Salidas said…
"Them's fighting words!" He he he, I love writing arguments. You are right, it gives us a chance to have our characters say the things we never would have. I have a character conflict in my novels, two "good" characters who are constantly antagonizing each other. It is so much fun to let them lose on each other and make other characters break them up. It's even more fun because they are on the same team and have to work together.
Jessica Nelson said…
Katie, that does sound fun!! And great way to put some tension in scenes that aren't necessarily part of the main conflict.
I hate confrontation in person. I hate conflict and will do just about anything not to do it. But in writing, I kind of like it. Especially if I'm feeling witty that day! :0)
Tamika: said…
Love to write them, probably because I don't dare create them in real life!

They make the story bubble!
Genny said…
I'm not very confrontational in real life, but I do have fun writing confrontational dialogue. I love being able to make my characters do what I wouldn't necessarily do. :)
Dara said…
I love writing them! My MC Naomi in my other WiP is very confrontational--she's always up for a fight :P

I haven't had much in this current story but I'm thinking I need to add more because it's a little ho-hum right now. But the scenes that do have confrontations--I can't write them fast enough!
Elana Johnson said…
I'm terrible in real life with confrontations. Terrible. My heart pounds. I usually just cower.

But in my books, I love them. I get to say what I've always wanted to say. It's awesome.
Ooo, my word count soars when I have to write this type of dialogue. I guess it's like actors, who enjoy playing villains.

Susan :)
Project Journal said…
Okay, I am definitely NOT a confrontational person, except when I have to be. So, in my spare time (LOL!), when I actually get to write some, I do tend to enjoy this kind of writing. I would agree with whoever said it was like actors who like to play the vilain. I mean, if you're acting(or writing) and it's not you, why not go all out and really change it from your normal life!?
Nancy said…
I thing I would like to write confrontational dialog. I can't remember any right now, but I probaably did do some at one time. I hate confrontation in real life. I just hate it!
Steve White said…
It's fun to write, it's fun to read. Believe it or not, what Stein and Donald Maass suggest is to write confrontational (or at least "adversarial") dialogue consistently, between all your characters.

Or else the reader may go to sleep. Zzzzz....

Thanks for mentioning my blog!
Jill Kemerer said…
I love a good conflict scene! There are so many zingers in "The Cutting Edge" (one of my fave movies) and that's why I love it!
Danyelle L. said…
I hate confrontations in real life, but I think they are essential in a good story. :) They're draining to write though. :D
Terri Tiffany said…
I love to write scenes like that! Finding the right moment to bring it out in the character can really make or break it I think,
Stephanie Faris said…
I love the back and forth between characters when things get heated. A series of one-line statements from each character, back and forth. It really builds tension.
Jessica Nelson said…
So apparently we all hate real confrontations but love made up ones! LOL

Thanks for your comments and I'm sorry I couldn't respond to everyone, but I LOVE reading them.
Karen Hossink said…
How am I with confrontations?
Mmmm. Not so good. IRL.
I'm thinking maybe if I wrote them, I'd do better handling them for real. I can't tell you how many times I've thought of great things to say - days after the fact. Not so impactful at that point...

Now, if I could come up with something like that NYPD Blue thing on the spot? Wow! But, alas, that was scripted. Probably too good to be off-the-cuff.

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