by Jenny Hansen
Today weâ€™re going to talk about Dirty Fighting. What is it, and why do you want to do it?
To start at the beginning, last weekend my honey was cleaning the office and he came across a piece of paper that made us laugh our faces off. This four page document he found â€“ called, â€œDirty Fighting Techniquesâ€ â€“ helped save our relationship back in 2006.
Note: Dirty Fighting isnâ€™t about some how-to guide on Jujitsu or Street Fighting. Nope, itâ€™s actually a list of twenty-two items given to us by our counselor to teach us the difference between the Dirty Fighting Techniques practiced by most people and the clean-as-a-whistle fighting he wanted us to strive for.
Weâ€™ve got to understand the goal before we can turn it upside down on its head, right?
What is clean fighting?
Clean Fighting follows these basic rules:
Here is a clean fight summed up in 4 easy steps:
1. How you feel (use an â€œIâ€ statement for this)
2. The behavior that prompted that feeling
3. Why itâ€™s important/the background (i.e. what button did they push)
4. What would you want them to do differently next time
Sounds simple, doesnâ€™t it? Go try it. Itâ€™s really hard to do when youâ€™re mad. Most people who are angry fight dirty. Clean fighting takes some rigorous training.
Now let me ask you something. Do you really think your characters have had any of this sort of training? Itâ€™s pretty unlikely unless youâ€™re writing about a psychologist. Itâ€™s much more likely that your character will be flawed like the rest of us.
What Makes Great Fiction?
Understanding the difference between clean and dirty fighting will give you a TON of mileage in your own stories. If you need plausible arguments and dialog, Dirty Fighting Techniques will help you achieve this. These techniques can be applied with a friend, family member or a significant otherâ€¦it doesnâ€™t really matter.
Every entry I’m sharing is guaranteed to make the other person see red. If youâ€™re writing fiction, that anger and tension is a REALLY good thing. If I give you all twenty-two at once, it will be like taking a drink of water from a fire hydrant so weâ€™re going to start with the five that will work best in fiction.
FIVE?? Thatâ€™s all the Dirty Fighting I get off that list, you might askâ€¦ Yep. Five is all you getâ€¦until the next time we discuss the topic. Iâ€™m gonna make this a multi-part post so you have time to really roll around in the Dirty Fighting Swamp. Go ahead, get dirty. Be the bog.
As I said earlier, great books are filled with conflict. And great characters who learn important lessons. Plus, dialog is the number one way to do several fun things like move your story quickly and legally bring in backstory.
Note: For a rundown of the perils of Back Story, read Kristen Lambâ€™s Monday post.
However, one of the problems I have with reading about dialog is that every character is unique and, even though the examples are usually awesome, my characters would never say those things. How do you think of creative things to say that would apply ONLY to our character?
One answer is to make him or her fight.
Since gratuitous fighting in a story is like gratuitous sex (kinda boring if thereâ€™s no real connection or reason for it), the author needs to find a great reason for the fight. How you use the fight is up to you but I think the easiest way to pave the road to this rad fight is to discover what your characters really want. Then dig down for what they really, really want. (You’ll remember this trick from Leanne Banks.)
DONâ€™T give it to them. Or at least, donâ€™t give it too soon.
Then flake away more layers to uncover what your character really fears. Then what they really, really fear. DO give that to them! This is where things get interesting. You not only have characters who are upset, you’ve also found a myriad of ways to slide everybody deeper into your story. To do this, ask your character questions.
Perhaps you’ll use the 9 questions I discussed a few weeks back in my post on Character Engagement or new ones that are all your own. Below are some of mine to help you get started.
1. What matters most to this character? (What is he or she most afraid to lose?)
2. Who matters most? (This is usually the person they are most afraid to lose.)
3. How did the character’s parents fight?
4. How did the characterâ€™s parents interact with him or her?
5. What does this character wish he or she had gotten in childhood?
6. What does my character want to be when they grow up
All of these questions can provide you with cues about where your character is â€œbrokenâ€ and give you ideas about fixing the broken part (i.e. Fix = Lesson).
Now it’s time to unleash that fight! BRING. IT. ON!!
#1 – Triangulating: Donâ€™t leave the issue between you and your conflict partner (could be a family member, friend or love interest), pull everybody in. Quote well-known authorities who agree with you and list every family member whom you know has taken your side (and lie about the ones you havenâ€™t spoken to yet).
Uses: Triangulating is incredibly useful in fiction because you can expand the discussion to more characters and stir up some real drama. Letâ€™s not keep this issue between just us, one character says to the other. Oh no, lets involve everybody.
If you have extreme Dirty Fighting Talent, you can stir the pot and then step back and play a new game called, â€œLetâ€™s watch the other two people fight.â€ That’s good times.
#2 – Escalating: Quickly move from the main issue of the argument to questioning your partner’s basic personality, and then move on to wondering whether the relationship is even worth it. Blame your partner for having a flawed personality so that a happy relationship will be impossible.
Uses: Excellent tool for keeping two love interests apart. BUT, the fight better be about something that really, really matters or you risk falling into the Bog of Coincidence and most stories donâ€™t have enough muscle to climb out of that place.
Escalating also allows for plausible use of Back Story. When youâ€™re moving from the main
issue to the REAL issue (often happens at the black moment / end of Act 2), escalating the argument will make someone lose control enough that they blurt out something juicy. Way to go, Author!
#3 â€“ Leaving: No problem is so big or important that it canâ€™t be ignored or abandoned all together. Walk out of the room, leave the house, or just refuse to talk. Sometimes just threatening to leave can accomplish the same thing without all the inconvenience of following through.
Uses: My favorite use of this is employing it when the two characters really need each other. It completely ups the betrayal factor: I canâ€™t depend on you, I donâ€™t trust you, Youâ€™ve let me down.
You noticed how dirty that last statement was, right? Not a clean fight to be found anywhere with “leaving,” which is fantastic for your story! The farther your character falls, the harder the journey is on the way back up, right?
#4 – Timing: Look for a time when your partner is least able to respond or least expects an argument.
Uses: Think about this from a story point of view. A really great time to pick a fight is just before the main character embarks on a journey, has a new murder to solve, is called on to save the world. Anything with high stakes works great. Be sure the character ambushing them is a likeable one so the reader REALLY gets drawn into the conflict.
#5 – Rejecting Compromise: Never back down. Stick with the philosophy that only one of you can win.
Uses: This is a kickass Dirty Fighting trick to use on the main character. If there is only one winner, there is automatic conflict involved for the person who “loses.” The solutions are endless.
What do you think? What are some other ways you could use a good fight to help your
character grow or advance your story? Do you use any of the five techniques in your own life…come on, you can tell us! Let’s hear your fabulous Dirty (Fighting) Thoughts!
This post just gave me some great ideas for some very entertaining dialogue. Thanks!
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