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Is it okay to have two characters who had an argument to patch things up offscreen, or do readers explicitly need to see how they made up?

None of the two characters in question are the protagonist, and the argument itself has little to no bearing on the plot. It basically served as a means for one of the characters to reveal how they felt about themselves. It wasn't even so much an argument as the two characters discussing something and one of the speaking out of turn because they touched upon a topic very sensitive for that character.

I personally don't think this is something that needs too much attention, as all it takes to resolve the issue is for one character to apologize, and therefore readers can just assume after a while that the characters made amends, but I wanted to hear other people's thoughts on the matter.

  • Are these characters good friends? Is the argument essentially minor? – Alexander Apr 24 '18 at 18:14
  • Yes, they're kinda close. The more I think about it, perhaps it wasn't as much an argument as one of the characters bursting and speaking out of turn for a moment when discussing something the character is very sensitive about. – Klara Raškaj Apr 24 '18 at 18:16
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    I had an argument and later two simple lines of dialog, one apologizing, the other apologizing back, in the middle of an awkward moment. It was short, no big make-up. – DPT Apr 24 '18 at 18:19
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    You can make it a way of character development. This pair can be always bickering and still remain on good terms without any need to apologize. – Alexander Apr 24 '18 at 18:35
  • Exactly :) That basically what I was going for. Thanks! – Klara Raškaj Apr 24 '18 at 18:36
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In reality, we rarely understand everything that goes on around us. The people we meet do not always explain to us why they behave the way they do. We often don't learn why friends have separated or reconciled.

I feel that a certain amount of unexplained detail makes a novel more "rich" and satisfying to me. When everything is resolved completely, I am quickly bored.


Also, as I have said before, trust your instinct.

When I read your question I get the impression that on a subconscious level you already know how you want to narrate this, but you are unsure because you have read all this advice on how to write and now you are overthinking it.

My advice is that you don't write with your head. Turn off your inner editor and trust your feeling.

7

It depends. In these matters, it always depends. It it advances or enriches the story, leave it in; if not, leave it out. There is no general rule that says such and such a thing always advances the story or such and such a thing never advances the story. It is always about the role it plays in the context of a specific story.

I'd frankly be more worried about whether the argument itself will feel contrived or boring if it is being used to tell us something about a secondary character that does not matter much to the main story. If you don't feel the need to finish a story arc, you should seriously question whether you needed to start the story arc.

If the argument matters enough to be in the story, then presumably the resolution of the argument matters enough to at least be mentioned in the story. You could, of course, accomplish this simply by saying "Tom and Mary made up later after he apologized and she made his favorite dessert for supper."

But if you are working in a narrative mode that allows you to say things like that (horrors! telling!) then you could reveal the information you want to reveal about Mary in the same way. "Mary never felt confident in public speaking after an unfortunate incident in the grade two play that involved three lines of poetry and a desperate need to pee."

  • The part of the character's arc where he reveals his negative feelings towards himself just so happened to end as an argument while talking about it with another character. Example: Mom: You don't have to study so hard! Billy: I have to if I wanna get an A and stop feeling like a loser! This is all your fault for not helping me study! Billy's mom was basically just there for him to bounce dialog off of. With this example, do you feel it is necessary to explicitly show how they made up later? – Klara Raškaj Apr 24 '18 at 17:45
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    @KlaraRaškaj It depends. It always depends. No one can give you a definitive answer out of context. My question to you is, is it necessary to create an otherwise irrelevant argument just to tell people this fact about Billy. I suspect this is taking show don't tell too far if you are making up whole scenes just to express one fact. – user16226 Apr 24 '18 at 18:04
  • Hmm... That's a good point. It's just that I'm always scared of people screaming at me "show don't tell" regardless of how relevant it is to the plot. – Klara Raškaj Apr 24 '18 at 18:05
  • People scream it all the time, though Mark Baker doesn't. LOL. Ummm, for those sort of deep seated flaws, isn't it better to weave it through? I think that is still showing. Like early on, Billy gets a D and is so dejected he does a stupid thing and stops studying. Later in the book he gets an F and kicks himself for not studying at all. He finally decides to get his act together. I think that is showing through action, which I think is a good alternative to showing through dialog. It's also more satisfying (or can be) to see the flaw surface a few times. – DPT Apr 24 '18 at 18:17
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    In prose all we have is words and all we can do with them is tell. Show don't tell means sometimes it is better to tell A in order for the reader to intuit B, which is true. But you are still telling A. If you try to avoid it by telling C hoping that the reader will intuit A and then B, you will never get anywhere. It is all about when to tell and when to show; when to be direct and when to be indirect. Telling directly is often best to move things along. Showing indirectly is sometimes necessary to allow the reader to reach a conclusion for themselves because that way they feel it more. – user16226 Apr 24 '18 at 18:22
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If the argument is a minor one, and the characters are people you'd expect to generally get along (good friends, parent/child etc.), you can safely skip the making up. In long-term relationships of any sort, it is natural that minor arguments occur, and then get resolved. It's not a big issue, it might as well get resolved off-screen. If resolving the argument adds nothing to the story, it definitely should be resolved off-screen. A reader would assume that they argued, someone apologised, or just forgave, no big deal.

If, on the other hand, the argument was over a major issue, or one of the people arguing crossed a line with what he said or did, the apology cannot be just assumed.
For example, a very disappointing instance in Star Trek - Deep Space 9 was in season 6: at the start of the season, one of the main characters cheats on his girlfriend, abandoned his duties, and allowed the Bad Guys to do a series of Bad Things. Eventually he remembers what he should be doing and saves the day, but then the reconciliation happens off-screen. Literally: the character and his girlfriend go into a closed room, and next time we see them, they emerge reconciled. The viewers hated it, the actors hated it. It only happened because the writers first wrote the character's temporary betrayal, and then couldn't figure out what to do next. Since you're not writing a TV show, you can do better.

  • The argument in my case is defintely not as major as adultery or abandoning duties or anything like that. Basically, it just boils down to one character calling the other "useless" out of anger because the topic they were discussing was very sensitive for that character. It's easily resolved with a simple "I'm sorry" in the case of these two characters, and therefore I believe it doesn't need to take up a whole scene to show that. Thank you for puttting my mind at ease. – Klara Raškaj Apr 24 '18 at 18:34
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Provide resolution, but it's often not necessary to play it out.

Do not simply ignore the argument and continue the story like it never happened. If you want to ignore it, use a one-liner that tells the reader it has been resolved and, if relevant, how it has been resolved.

  • Exactly. Sometimes it's a plot hole (they were strangling each other when not spewing vituperatives, and are now best buds; why?), and sometimes not (friends have arguments, and stay friends). – RonJohn Apr 25 '18 at 9:54
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Perhaps you could do the apology as more needed for one character than the other. For example, in Firefly, after the captain and the rest of the ship come to Simon's rescue, Simon goes to Captain Mal and asks him why he did it. Mal says because Simon is part of his crew. Simon responds by pointing out he and Mal almost never get along, to which Mal responds "You're part of my crew. Why are we still talking about this?"

This goes in hand with Mal's morality. He may be the leader of a ship of smugglers and (petty) thieves, and he isn't hiding that he doesn't care for Simon as a person all that much, but Simon is a part of the crew and he does not leave his crew behind for any reason (We later see this philosophy play out when he threatens to kill another member of his crew who put their entire operation in jeopardy for his own personal greed).

This "apology" could be awkward not because it has to be, but because character A feels it's necessary, while character B (the one who is receiving the apology) never even thought character A had done anything worth apologizing about, but merely spoken his mind... which B sees as a good thing. This is especially relevant as even if two people see the same information, they can still interpret the facts into two very different opinions and there is nothing wrong with that.

I'd give a real world example of an evaluation of facts that can be taken by two separate and logical people and be interpreted in two separate ways, but every example I can think of is likely to start conversations I would rather not have on this SE.

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