Apologetics: explaining why what seems to a bug is actually a feature

I'm going to start out with my clever definition of what the word "apologetics" means, and then I'm going to relate to a somewhat ill-mannered thing I sometimes do while giving a critique in a writing workshop.  Ready?

The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church, ed. Gross and Livingstone (why should an atheist have this massive tome sitting in the bookshelf closest his work desk? The world is full of mysteries. Even if you are an atheist) defines apologetics as "The defence of Christian belief and of the Christian way against alternatives and against criticism". But the part of it I find most interesting is when a religion has to explain some really weird thing in its scriptures or its traditions that outsiders make fun of. You come up with a mechanism. You explain how this seemingly out-of-context thing really is essential to the context. You create a story out bits of other stories. This can be an extremely creative act.

So I do define apologetics as explaining why what seems to be a bug is actually a feature. I was inspired to this way of approaching it from an episode of Roman Mars's wonderful podcast 99% Invisible, the one on interface design in SF movies called Future Screens Are Mostly Blue. Go listen to it, it's both funny and informative. What we all strive for.

What does this have to do with workshop critiquing? My, you are full of questions today, aren't you? Lost your negative capability again?

Sometimes there are things a writer has written that don't seem to hang together. Characters seem incorrectly motivated, events seem to arrive without cause. Maybe the author has a deeper scheme. Or maybe the author, being human, just hasn't worked things out thoroughly.

So coming up with an explanation for these disparate events, even if that explanation is clearly not what the poor author ever intended, can be....well, okay, it really isn't that useful to the person being critiqued. It's like doing backflips over a car wreck. This form of literary apologetics, particularly used in a mean-spirited way, is just not good form.

I like to think that wanting to show me where I'm wrong is a motivating force. Or is that just after-the-fact self-justification?

At any rate, use this on some piece of your own that has pieces you like, but just isn't jelling. What other underlying scheme might explain the observed phenomena? How many different coherent explanations can you come up with? Do any of them have features that stimulate your own thoughts?

Or do what Noessel and Shedroff, the subjects of the episode, do, and come up with other explanations for what doesn't make sense to you about works you love but find annoying in some way. It can be a really fruitful way of interacting with them, and is the basis for some lively fanfic.