I have noticed that The Apology is a common theme in romance writing of all kinds: novels, movies, songs. So I thought I would explore what it takes to write a great apology scene.
Context is the first big feature of a good apology. Let’s just imagine it is a guy who is apologizing (another pattern I have noticed, and the context may explain why). A good apology comes from the recognition that something of value has been damaged or broken and he has the power to fix it. An apology given from a place of “I’m dogmeat and you don’t really understand how hard it is for me” never works for me. I want to feel like the guy is on his game and steering the ship. Apologizing from a position of strength, a knowing what is ultimately important and that he has the power to fix it, is much better. Receiving an apology should actually be enjoyable.
Once the guy is in the right frame of mind, there are four steps to a good apology. This comes from psychology and my own experience. If he covers all the bases the woman (and every readers who is imagining she is her) will actually be glad the bad thing happened because it was a catalyst for this great event.
1. State what you did wrong.
“If I hurt you I’m sorry” is the opposite of accomplishing this step. What are we talking about here? Put it on the table. “I never meant to hurt you” is a statement of self-protection. Why would that be the big point in an apology? Focus on the girl and what the experience was like for her.
2. Fix the damage.
Whatever mess has been created, undo it. If you humiliated her in front of other people, go to them and state that it was wrong and she deserves to be treated with respect. If you broke something, get it repaired. In whatever physical what you can, restore things to the way they were before the offending event occurred.
3. Give reasonable expectation there will be no repeat performance.
This could be signing up for AA is excessive drinking was the problem. Reading a book, taking a course, talking to a friend, making a commitment to give up something of value if it ever happens again. And then his word is his bond. If a commitment is made and he doesn’t follow through, the girl has to accept the answer she is being given through his actions and find a safe place for herself. Forgiveness shouldn’t happen until you know you are not vulnerable to the same damage again. It is good to receive an apology and give a person you care about a second chance. It is also good to receive what he is saying through his actions and take appropriate actions. When a character turns a blind eye to abusive behaviour she becomes unrelated-able (invented a word there) and sometimes less likable.
4. Ask what you can do to make it better.
Even when the damage is repaired physically, there is an emotional piece that still needs to be taken care of. This is also where the girl has to decide what would it take for her to let go of her pain. There is an imbalance between them and he is saying he is willing to do what it takes to bring that balance back. She has to know not to make the price so high that she does damage in return. The fact that he asks is a big message that what she feels matters to him. What she asks for is a visible expression of how strong her connection is to herself (is he going to have to make her feel better about herself of just better about the situation?) and what she sees as valuable in the relationship. Be careful what you ask for takes on a whole new meaning here.
Have you ever been given this kind of apology?
I can actually say I have. Most often I get a few of the steps, but when I get the whole enchilada it is magical!