A blog post title that is not (?) terrible

Okay, unlike yesterday’s blog post, that caught my eye by declaring that “most high fantasy has terrible dialogue,” this one caught my eye because it’s intriguing and attractive in a good way.

From Writer Unboxed: Unapologetic Characterization.

Yes! Is my immediate reaction. Let us by all means write characters the way we want to and not apologize if they’re not written exactly the way someone else wants them. I’m thinking here of all Nicole Kornher-Stace’s many emphatic tweets about writing characters the way she wants to or needs to or feels is right for the story, ignoring every push toward (say) inserting romance.

Of course, I haven’t read the post yet. Maybe it’s talking about something quite different. Let’s take a look …

No! This post is utterly different from what I expected. It’s about characters that apologize for stuff. I did not see that coming! In fact, it’s so unexpected that I think I may borrow a declaration from Robert’s comment yesterday and say, Yep, the trouble with most blog post titles is that they ARE terrible. Or at least misleading.

But fine, let’s see what this post has to say:

“I’m sorry.”

These two words are like a thick blanket someone will toss over whatever unknown coals might be scorching a valued relationship. The words do not acknowledge the harm that was done—they simply allow the wrongdoer to avoid looking at his or her behavior so the relationship can move on unchanged.

Oh, I disagree! Already! That didn’t take long.

The offensive type of apology is “I’m sorry if you’re offended.” That’s the nonapology apology. That’s the one that allows the wrongdoer to avoid looking at his or her own actions; that’s the one that’s meant move on without changing anything. “I’m sorry” full stop isn’t that at all. It’s perhaps not the end of the conversation, but it’s a perfectly solid beginning.

[W]hy do the words “I’m sorry” bother me as a reader—especially when I’m a fan of their lavish use in everyday life?  It’s because in many cases, they gloss over the real, relatable, and often gritty conflicts the author has strived to build into their story. 

Yep, still not agreeing. Well, let me see. Okay, this is a fairly long post, which normally I like. But, scanning ahead to see where the author of the post is going … yep, I basically keep hitting things I disagree with.

If “I’m sorry” isn’t heartfelt, it’s either lame word bloating or manipulative—but it always throws attention back on the speaker, who doesn’t want to feel bad for doing what she’s done.

Oh, it does not. That’s exactly what it does not do. Look:

“I’m sorry. What can I do to make amends?”

There, see? The attention is absolutely directed outward, at the person hurt, not at the speaker. I think you can defend this article’s thesis only if you assume that the speaker says “I’m sorry,” as a cynical means of making the other person say, “No, no, that’s all right, don’t worry about it.” There’s not the slightest reason to assume that’s what’s going on in this kind of interaction.

Ha, this is making me think of Miles attempting to apologize to Ekaterin in A Civil Campaign, and how hard it was for him to make it about her and not about him. That’s one of my favorite fictional apologies.

But a different Miles apology comes to mind in the context of this post. Remember after Miles blows up his secret career and gets fired by Ilyan? And has that talk with Gregor afterward? Let’s see, how does that talk end? Right: he says “I’m sorry,” and that’s it, that’s the end of that conversation. Miles apologizes and Gregor nods and they move on.

Now that I think about it, I wonder if that’s the moment I had in mind when, in the first Griffin Mage book — which, by the way, is $1.99 for the entire trilogy as a Kindle ebook, just saying — anyway, I’m not sure I thought of this at the time, but I wonder now if this scene between Miles and Gregor was one I drew on when I wrote a specific moment that’s somewhat similar between Bertaud and Iaor.

Wow, is this linked post wrong. It is so, so wrong. “I’m sorry” and a little nod or other very minimal response can absolutely be a powerful way to write an apology.

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4 thoughts on “A blog post title that is not (?) terrible”

  1. I also think that blog post is wrong. An apology (or non-apology) is a great way to either start conflict or resolve it. True apologies can set your character up as someone who is selfless or willing to admit they’re wrong, while half-hearted apologies are good at showing up all kinds of other character traits (not all of them bad, either! Self-assurance can elicit a half-hearted apology).
    I think one of my favorite parts of the Queen’s Thief trilogy is this ongoing dialogue between Irene and Eugenides about how apologies get boring when you know the other party will inevitably use them often, but they’re also necessary and right in some situations.
    There’s also the fact that sometimes someone apologizes, which is then the catalyst for a ‘what now?’ Someone messed up big, and now that has to be rectified. Somehow. And the work (and often, the real story) begins.

  2. I think how “I’m sorry” comes across depends, in fiction as in real life, on the context. Those words don’t stand alone — what we know about the people involved matters. Without looking up the scene with Miles from Memory, I’d say the significance of Miles saying “I’m sorry” and nothing else is that he isn’t trying to weasel out of acknowledging his guilt, he doesn’t then immediately try to make the moment about something else, and nor is he following up with excuses and justifications. A simple apology, based on what we know of Miles, speaks to his sincerity.

  3. Hereyna, yes, exactly, and I think that perception of sincerity is everything. The words used are nothing, or almost nothing. That post completely lacked any appreciation of context and sincerity, focusing only on the words used, which is so wrong-headed.

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