Wednesday, March 07, 2007

And even more on breaking the law

This time I will look at the local law. By this I mean the law as it is seen by the local population. Again social norms and taboos are included in the concept of law. Please bear in mind that in this context a law that forbids adult men from drinking water between Friday sundown and Saturday morning is not outlandish by any means. It's a local law.

Again we can divide the law into categories.

Formal laws that most everyone agree are good.

Informal laws considered good.

Formal laws mostly considered oppressive (bad).

Informal laws a large minority consider oppressive (bad).

In fiction your 'good guys' break the first two at great risk of being ostracised by the reader. Well, that might seem like a strange word, but if a reader drops the book never to read it again and tells anyone listening that it is a bad read said book just lost a few readers. And rumours do grow wings.

The problem here lies in making two things clear to the reader. One I have touched upon earlier, namely that the reader needs to know why and when a local (fictional) law differs from the reader's local law. The second is a compelling reason to continue to read about a 'hero' committing such a crime.

Villains are more or less assumed to either break the first two kinds of laws or at least to adhere to the latter two rigidly. At least if we as writers want the easy way out.

A 'hero' breaking the latter two usually gives the reader a feeling of the good fight against injustice. Again we are talking simple stereotypes.

The maybe all too easy solution is to have the last two types of laws mirror outdated and cruel laws from history. A possibly more dangerous trap is when the law broken belong to group 1 or 2 in the fictional world but in 3 or 4 in the world of the reader. All too often the story falls flat or becomes inconsistent.

I will most probably return to this topic or a similar one later, but this article should be the last of its kind for a while.

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