Tuesday, May 3, 2011

“But that's not fair!”

Using the word morality in fiction is dangerous -- it conjures up images of high horses and religious dictates, which aren't really things we want in our fiction.

To me the word means just one thing: fairness.

Life, as they say, isn't fair, but that's not an excuse for people to not be fair. In fiction, protagonists who prioritize fairness are people I want to root for. Those are the characters I find appealing and the stories I'm interested in following.

A character might not know what's fair or she might be misled about what's fair -- she might have wrong or incomplete information, for example. She might have to revise her opinion about what's fair along the way. But to be appealing to me as a reader (or author), a character wants to do the right thing. If her world is small, she might only be concerned with doing the right thing for those in her immediate environment. As her knowledge of the universe grows, her priorities shift and she gains a wider sense of what "fair" can mean.

She has to be fair to herself, too, which may be how she avoids becoming overly self-righteous or self-sacrificing. We expect our heroes to make sacrifices, of course, even sacrificing their lives if it's "worth it", but only when they're backed into a corner with no options.

"But that's not fair!" -- it's the eternal whine of children all over the world, but sometimes those children have a point. A character who considers what's fair, and is concerned with making things fair, is far more appealing to me than a character driven by selfish or petty motivations, including righteous revenge.

3 comments:

S.E. Gaime (aka defcon) said...

I guess I'm different in that regard, I don't always care if the character is fair, they just have to be interesting with a few sympathetic qualities. Revenge may be petty, but it's also being human to have those feelings. (What person doesn't wish for a little revenge once in a while?) Perhaps on their path of revenge, they realize it's not worth it. Maybe they change - maybe it's too late to change. Maybe all they can do is cradle their broken dreams and imagine what could have been.

As a reader, I want to be there with the character as they struggle - and it's not so much whether they make it, but what they learned or gained from it. Yes, I love me some gritty reality. :)

Sara Creasy said...

I'm usually okay with the character starting out with selfish or petty motivations (as long as she has redeeming features). It gives her somewhere to go, but she'd better make some progress fast before I lose sympathy for her.

Of course, she doesn't have to gain what she set out to gain - all the better if she doesn't, if she learns her original goal wasn't as important as something more worthwhile (e.g. fairness!). Still, I would prefer her original goal is in itself a decent one even if it's short-sighted or insulated at first.

If she can't change for some reason, and ends up cradling broken dreams and imagining what could have been... well, that's way too much of a downer! I'm definitely looking for a satisfying ending, if not a blissfully happy one. I think that's the romantic in me, even though I don't think I could write a straight-up romance.

Sam_Wiser said...

I've seen way too many heroines in UF that are so petty and selfish they're just unlikeable and I don't care what happens to them, I don't care if they'te going to learn and change. And half the time this bad attitude is supposed to be cute. It's not.