So, let's move away from the specific incidences of bad behavior that have been making the media rounds lately, and talk about bad behavior in writing. Specifically, consequences.
Young adult author Elena Johnson blogged today about the responsibility of authors to show authentic consequences for bad actions in fiction, and this got me thinking. I wholeheartedly agree that character actions should always have authentic consequences -- after all, authenticity is what I think all fiction writers should be striving for. But.
- Sometimes people DO get away with bad behavior. Authentic consequences are not always the precise consequences we hope for. I tend to believe that bad people will eventually get their comeuppance... but man, sometimes the universe takes its sweet time getting that karmic retribution in gear.
- Not everyone agrees on what constitutes "bad behavior." Take sports as an example. I think good sportsmanship is more important than winning the game, but plenty of parents would abandon good sportsmanship in a heartbeat if it meant winning the game and maybe getting that college coach to notice their kid... these are the parents who think they're RIGHT to punch the referee over a bad call! What would a YA book written by those parents look like, I wonder?
Additionally, I am a social liberal (leaning towards libertarian) who believes in many things that other people clearly think are atrocious. Again, I think I have the moral high ground... and so do the people who disagree with me. I'm sure, for example, that many writers (and readers!) would prefer that a young adult novel show some negative consequences befalling a teen character who had premartial sex. However, I don't think there's anything per se wrong with premartial sex among (mature, responsible) teens, and if I ever wrote book about such characters, I would write accordingly.
Authors, do your characters consistently suffer for their misdeeds, or do some go unpunished? And what about those controversial deeds where not everyone agrees on what's right or wrong? Do you worry about reader reaction, wondering if your ideas of right and wrong will come across as too conservative, or not conservative enough? Does this issue play into your ideas of who your ultimate reading audience will be?
Readers, would you prefer authentic consequences even if the bad guy gets away with it, or do you prefer the morally satisfying tales where good always triumphs and evil always fails?