LESSON ARGUMENTS

Discussion in 'REFINING WRITING' started by Asmodeus, Aug 17, 2010.

  1. 2. ARGUMENTS

    This second tutorial will perhaps be the most unpopular for many of you. It concerns the teachings of Aristotle, a man widely regarded as the father of Western philosophy. His teachings are still used by structuralists, both in oral and written persuasion, and should be include as part of your own skill set.

    No writer will succeed unless they can argue their scenes convincingly.





    THE SHAPE OF AN ARGUMENT
    Show Spoiler
    This is the basic shape of a convincing argument. It starts from the big picture, focuses on the details, then goes back to the big picture.
    Show Spoiler
    Show Spoiler


    The golden rule of Aristotlean Form is this: Say what you're going to say; Say it; Say what you've said.

    In this way, the arc of a good argument is just like the arc of a good story. Stories move from moments of foreshadowing to moments of action and then to moments of reflection. Human brains are hardwired to respond to this structure because this is precisely the way in we process life itself: we prepare, we experience and then we reflect.

    An argument is therefore a story in minature and an analogy of the human experience. Get the argument right and, like a good story, it can sway the world.



    Step 1: THE SITUATION
    Show Spoiler
    At the start of the argument you need to set the stage, so that all the audience are on the right page. People will be coming to your writing in all different circumstances and in all different moods, so to ensure that they react the way you want them to, you need the focal startpoint.
    Show Spoiler
    Show Spoiler


    The two most famous Situation sentences are "Once upon a time..." and "It was a dark and stormy night...". These instantly draw the audience into the right mindset. In oratory arguments, this is the equivalent of calling people to order, for example: "We are here today to discuss the invasion of our homeland. In a week's time the enemy will be at our gates, and we must choose whether to surrender or to fight."

    The Situation sentence is impartial and unbiased. It is simply the framing reference, like the opening shot of a movie. To write a convincing scene, the sitation needs to be clear.

    For example: "It was a dark and stormy night. The children had taken shelter in the old house and now they had to decide whether to stay the night or to go out in search of a phonebox."



    Step 2: THE THESIS STATEMENT
    Show Spoiler
    This is the single most important part of the argument. The Thesis Statement is the caption to your movie poster - the slogan to your advert. It is a single sentence that sums up your entire argument, and in your head it needs to be written in capitals, bold and underlined.
    Show Spoiler
    Show Spoiler


    Everything hangs upon your Thesis Statement, and your whole job for the rest of the argument is to create a world where your Thesis Statement makes sense. When writing fiction, think of this as the whole point of your scene. There is a reason that you are writing this scene - a message that you want to communicate. Write it in bold, capitals and underline it, and never ever stray from it.

    For example: "It was a dark and stormy night. The children had taken shelter in the old house and now they had to decide whether to stay the night or to go out in search of a phonebox. But soon they would realise, THEY HAD TO STAY."



    Step 3: THE POINTS
    Show Spoiler
    The meat of your argument is the pros and cons, or to be more precise the cons and pros. Once you have declared your Thesis Statement, your next task is to set up and knock down every possible counter-argument to that Thesis. It is no good just launching into the pros - you need to show that you are aware of the counter-arguments and are able to dismiss them.
    Show Spoiler
    Show Spoiler


    There are 3 ways of making points:
    - A Rational Point - based on straightforward logic, for example: "They knew how to get to the phonebox, but if they left now they would catch pneumonia in the storm."
    - An Emotive Point - one that appeals to the audience's emotions, for example: "All of them were fit enough to keep going, but Sarah was crying. It seemed she was too scared to go out in the darkness."
    - An Ethicial Point - one derived from moral codes and common ethics, for example: "The phonebox wasn't that far away, but they had just broken into the house, so they would have to stick around to explain if the owners came back."

    You should try to use a couple of each of these in the body of your argument. This way you are hitting the audience on three sides, appealing to their rationality, their emotion and their moral beliefs.

    Once you have 5 or 6 points, order them according to their strength and then decide how to arrange them. You may want to go with your strongest points first, or go from weakest to strongest, or a mix of each. The order of your points could be 2,5,1,3,4,6 or 4,1,6,3,5,2, and so on. Just bear in mind that the human brain tends to remember the first and last things it was told, so structure your points carefully. Don't let your best point be lost just because the points before and after it are in the wrong place.

    Setting up and knocking down 5 or 6 cons, with a mixture of emotion, reason and ethics, in the correct order, is the key to building persuasive momentum.

    For example: "It was a dark and stormy night. The children had taken shelter in the old house and now they had to decide whether to stay the night or to go out in search of a phonebox. But soon they would realise, THEY HAD TO STAY. They knew how to get to the phonebox, but if they left now they would catch pneumonia in the storm. And though all of them were fit enough to keep going, Sarah was crying and seemed too scared to go out in the darkness. And anyway, they had just broken into the house, so they would have to stick around to explain if the owners came back."



    Step 4: THE RESTATEMENT
    Show Spoiler
    This may seem ridiculous to some of you, but after you've made your argument you should always restate your Thesis Statement. Just repeat it, word for word, with all the same emphasis. This is important for making the argument arc back to where it began.
    Show Spoiler
    Show Spoiler


    As said before, your argument is all about creating a world in which your Thesis Statement makes sense. So once all the cons have been set up and knocked down, restate your Thesis and offer it as the answer to the Situation. If the cons have been knocked down correctly, then the audience will have no choice but to agree.

    For example: "It was a dark and stormy night. The children had taken shelter in the old house and now they had to decide whether to stay the night or to go out in search of a phonebox. But soon they would realise, THEY HAD TO STAY. They knew how to get to the phonebox, but if they left now they would catch pneumonia in the storm. And though all of them were fit enough to keep going, Sarah was crying and seemed too scared to go out in the darkness. And anyway, they had just broken into the house, so they would have to stick around to explain if the owners came back. So THEY HAD TO STAY"



    Step 5: THE NEW WORLD
    Show Spoiler
    A good story is never completely self-contained. There is always an opening at the end, either for a sequel or simply for the imagination to think about how things may have continued.
    Show Spoiler
    Show Spoiler


    So once you have returned to your Thesis Statement, it is important to show the new world in which that Thesis Statement operates. When writing fiction, this helps you link to the next scene, and when making an actual argument it gives the audience a taste of what will come if they go along with you.

    The new world is the "And so..." sentence, or the "If we do this, we can then..." sentence that sets up the resolved Situation. It describes the path ahead and the place you will take the audience now that you have won them over.

    For example: "It was a dark and stormy night. The children had taken shelter in the old house and now they had to decide whether to stay the night or to go out in search of a phonebox. But soon they would realise, THEY HAD TO STAY. They knew how to get to the phonebox, but if they left now they would catch pneumonia in the storm. And though all of them were fit enough to keep going, Sarah was crying and seemed too scared to go out in the darkness. And anyway, they had just broken into the house so they would have to stick around to explain if the owners came back. So THEY HAD TO STAY. And once they realised this, they lit the fire in the living room and found as many blankets as they could, wrapping up warmly for the night."




    So, the Aristotlean Form is a fundamental way to write convincing scenes. Set up the situation, introduce a Thesis, have that Thesis knock down its opponents, repeat the Thesis, then show the new situation that the Thesis has created.

    Some of you may notice yet another analogy here between arguments and stories. Simply substitute a few words in the above paragraph, and you get this...

    Set up the world, introduce a Hero, have that Hero knock down its opponents, describe the Hero in his triumph, then show the new world that the Hero has created.


    Your Thesis is the Message of your scene. The Message of your scene is your Hero. Your Hero is your Thesis. The same lessons come up again and again in writing, and they always reflect these hardwired human thought-processes. So a convincing argument is the same as a convincing hero and a convincing scene. Aristotle worked this out a long time ago, and the truth of it has stood the test of time.

    "Say what you're going to say; Say it; Say what you've said."



     
    #1 Asmodeus, Aug 17, 2010
    Last edited by a moderator: Sep 1, 2013
    • Like Like x 1