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Realistic Escalation

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, May 11, 2019

There comes the time when you may have a scene that starts off quite innocuously. It might even start all fun and games. But sometime during it, the atmosphere changes drastically, and things escalate, seemingly out of nowhere.

What used to be a chill scene, now is suddenly a strife of some sort, often a very dramatic one.

But how to do that and have the dialogue feel natural and flowing, rather than forced?

One way to go about it is to prepare. Before you can use such a scene you must build an iceberg: The characters that are going to be involved in it have to have unresolved issues that have already been established in the story (or, if your story layout is different will establish later on) of such a nature that the intense emotions linked to those issues can easily resurface if properly provoked. The additional element necessary is that these emotions and these issues must also be pushed away and sealed up, rather than in the front and center. The characters must want to avoid talking about these issues and the emotions that go with them.

Once that is done, you have the part of your iceberg that is under the surface. The situation in which there will be an opportunity to have your intense escalation is the tip of the iceberg, what lies above the surface: it's the persona the characters have or the manner of interacting with each other while avoiding the big ‘elephant in the room’ issue + emotions.

And now you're all set! You only need to orchestrate the scene so that one line that will force the seal keeping the issue and the emotions sealed up to break, usually violently and messily.

The scene should begin with typical interactions, without anything implying that the interactions will veer off into any uncharted or dangerous territory for the characters. However as the scene progresses, what they are talking about parallels the gist of the taboo issue in very significant ways. If, for example, the taboo issue is a miscarriage, they might be talking about the neighbour's children.

The more they talk about the seemingly pedestrian issue, the more the things the characters are saying are aligning and sounding close to what they think about the taboo issue OR they have a casual argument that might warrant a counter argument by one of the characters that directly breaches the taboo issue, but is too good to pass up in the way the things are becoming progressively more and more tense among them.

As things become tense, comes the line that sets things off. I call that the trigger. This line is what will hit the chord in the character that you want to first openly escalate the situation into an argument or a fight.

From the point of the trigger, every line of dialogue should up the ante, and keep making the emotions rise and the atmosphere higher and higher with the tension.

And then of course, comes the explosion: the point in the dialogue where things hit the point of no return, and things are said that can't be taken back (or action to that effect).

And voilà! Your “quick escalation” will escalate quickly and also flow well and efficiently.

Have you ever had scenes like this?

*mild disclaimer: I am writing this at the end of an all nighter in the last day of a rather hard week. So if this doesn't make sense I promise I'll come back to correct it when my brain is working properly again, with my apologies.

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ozoneocean at 3:49AM, May 13, 2019

Getting tone change right is important! Sudden tone shifts are ok when something is supposed to be a surprise or a shock but often people just do it because they don't know how to lead into it properly and that's always off-putting!

usedbooks at 3:43AM, May 11, 2019

I put a good deal of effort into what I hope feels like a natural flow of dialogue. My favorite mood-changing convo so far was when Yuki confronted her brother with a murder accusation. She starts out hot under the surface but basically laying out details while he tries to cooly explain them and gaslight until he just can't. I also have a pair who routinely cause writing difficulty because although still quite in love, every conversation, if it goes on long enough, turns snarky, then into an argument, and then somber. It's a weird little dance.

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