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Disclaimer: I’m from a fair-sized Irish family. I’ve spent nearly half of my life in a relationship with one member of the opposite sex or another and that has culminated in my marriage of the past three years.
I only give you this information because these are my credentials to blog about arguments between people of close relationship statuses.
In my Irish family, it was never who was right who won the argument (what an outdated concept that). Instead, it was who could yell their point the loudest. One learned to adjust, delivering their well-placed interjections at the top of their lungs. All I took away from such experiences was the knowledge that this was NOT an effective way of settling disputes. We managed but I was left feeling as if the grunting and scratching of caveman times would have been just as successful.
My personal relationships have been a bit better, at least at times, and I’ve come to realize that the dynamics of good (and bad) interpersonal relationships are forged through the very savvy execution of arguing.
When I say arguing, perhaps that is too strong a word. How about this: expression of differing viewpoints.
I have become a master of the “When you X, I feel Y” and “If you A, then I believe B” approach to arguing, er, stating different opinions. It has made for easier marital relations. My husband is even getting the hang of it, versatile man that he is.
This tactic has cut down on major blow ups, but day to day differences always crop up and these differences seem to be the ones that define a relationship.
Such things like this little exchange:
Me: Why is your coffee cup in the sink?
Him: It’s dirty
Me: I know it’s dirty but the dishwasher is two feet away.
Him: I know where the dishwasher is.
Me: The location of the dishwasher isn’t in question. It’s why your cup isn’t in it that has me baffled.
This exchange could continue but I won’t bore you. What I’m getting at is this type of back and forth, the subtle banter that expresses differing opinions without being overtly argumentative, is a great source of suspense. In conversations such as this, the electricity in the air says that a fight could break out at any minute and you should stay tuned. Maybe they will fight, maybe they won’t, but don’t you want to know? (“Next week on Jerry Springer….”)
I love reading exchanges like this in books. They add great tension. Perhaps because of that, my own work has examples of this throughout. I thought I’d give you an example.
This takes place after my heroine saves my hero from getting stabbed (he’s not aware she saved him as she accidentally knocked him unconscious beforehand). He’s asking her what she’s doing there and she’s skirting the issue (not able to explain how she’s there or how she saved his life).
*I’ve cut out everything but the dialogue.
Her: “I needed to get away from the crowd.”
Him: “Away from the crowd? You decided to get away from the crowd by wandering off into the dark alone?”
Her: “I didn’t actually think through it that way.”
Him: “I would hasten to say that you didn’t think at all.”
Her: “I was still on the Selwyn’s property during a crush. The logical probability that I would come across a fight between two gentlemen was negligible and the chance I would be struck was nearly impossible. Additionally, it wouldn’t hurt for you to acknowledge that I might have assisted you in some small bit back there.”
Him: “If you consider fawning over me, getting yourself hurt, and putting yourself in danger to be assistance, then assistance has been acknowledged.”
Her: “I don’t believe that you are being fair in this matter. I apologize for putting you out, but you’re being unreasonable.”
Him: “You apologize? You think that was an apology?”
Her: “Had you been at the ball earlier, you could have been keeping a better eye on me instead of placing yourself in mortal peril, couldn’t you have?”
Him: “Had I known you needed such close monitoring, I wouldn’t have let you out of my sight.”
How about your story? Do you employ the banter method of suspense? Any examples you would like to share? What other ways do you employ suspense in your writing? Any tidbits of personal banter you find particularly amusing and don't mind sharing with the rest of us?