Now I’m not going to be talking about skin tone here. Instead, this week I’m going to be looking at the importance of fairness in a story.
I like a story where the bad guy gets what they deserve at the end. I find it deeply satisfying when all the machinations which have been making everyone’s life a misery up to that point, are deftly untangled and the villain of the piece is unmasked as being just that. But should a story always have the classic ‘White Hat’ triumphing over the ‘Black Hat’?
A fantastic example of trying to do more than that is the work of George Orwell. I’d rate 1984 and Animal Farm as being in my Top Ten of all time. They are deeply unsettling, both with a casual undertone of brutal powerlessness and give the reader the chance to really bond with a just cause. The biggest horror in them both, though, is the way that the just cause doesn’t triumph.
In 1984, Winston Smith is left a broken husk of a man thanks to his time within the Ministry of Love, his desire for free thoughts and Julia gone completely. Animal Farm sees the downtrodden masses rise up against their brutal master and create a better life for themselves only for that life to be twisted by members of their own group until it’s a carbon copy of the original. In both instances, the good guys lose.
So should we always see the ‘White Hat’ overcome the ‘Black Hat’? Should we always have things unfold fairly?
In the real world fairness is the ideal but seems to be so often unattainable. I know that at work I regularly hear the wondrous phrase “That’s not fair.” So often we hear that someone, feeling that they are on the receiving end of rough treatment or an outcome of a situation which isn’t weighted evenly, thinks something isn’t fair. The response is always the same, “Life isn’t fair.” At every turn in our lives we can recognise the existence of the ‘unfair’ so why wouldn’t we want to have a story where no matter the struggle, no matter the trials that are taking place, everyone receives the outcome they deserve? Perceived fairness becomes an almost mythical wish fulfilment goal. Our own trials can be overlooked because at least we have some way of experiencing the ‘win’, even if it is within the pages of a book.
So should we always have the results happen in a good way for the heroes? Of course not. We all require a level of reality in our stories as a way of grounding the detail, of creating a stronger engagement from the reader and to set the boundaries to what will be playing out. That point at the end of a story where we’re expecting the triumph and it doesn’t come can always keep you on your toes. That surprise will leave a mark.
So I return to my opening point. I like a story where the bad guy gets what’s coming but you know what, should they get away with it, it doesn’t mean that everything is lost. Just that it’s happening in a different way which is arguably more real.
Is that fair?