The Bad Guy Did It–Or Did He?

If you’ve read much fiction, (or even written some of it), you may have noticed a common thread among all those stories.  If there is any sort of crime committed, usually murder, but also robbery or treason or some such despicable act, or even something as minor as telling a white lie or a tiny fib, the bad guy who committed the crime must always pay for his/her act.  Always.  No exceptions.  That’s the rule and the writer must follow it.  No one is ever allowed to get away with committing any crime.

All crime shows end with a resolution of the case.  In most cases, the perpetrator of the crime is arrested, though in rare instances that person may have been killed before the investigators find out whodunit.  But justice is always served, in one way or another.  By the end of the story, novel, movie, or TV show, the person who committed the crime is identified and given his due.

So, what would happen if you or I were to write a story where the bad guy gets away with the crime?  Don’t look so shocked; it happens all the time in real life.  (I won’t recount examples here, surely you know some yourself.)  But suppose I were to write a novel where someone gets away with murder.  Would a major New York publisher be willing to publish it?  Not on your unnatural-born life.  It doesn’t adhere to the one inviolable rule: the bad guy must be caught.  You cannot violate that rule.  (You could self-publish it, though.)

Actually, I’ve thought occasionally about writing a story where a character gets away with a crime.  Not murder–I wouldn’t go that far–but something smaller, like a rich arrogant person who abuses his servants or employees and lives in lavish security away from any retribution, and he lives out his life in a penthouse on Park Avenue, with other homes in Switzerland and Cannes and Naples and Aspen, and owns yachts and airplanes galore, and dies a rich man after what he considers an extremely satisfied life and is buried in a lavish vault in a private cemetery.  I haven’t written such a story yet because I’m working on several other projects that are far more important to my career, and a story like that is way low on my priority list.  But it could be done.

So, why aren’t these stories published?  Why doesn’t the art of writing reflect the reality of life?  I guess it’s because we don’t want to recognize that such situations exist.  It does happen in the painting arts: Pablo Picasso painted “Guernica,” a condemnation of the Nazi destruction of that city.  But in our stories we want to get away from the inequities of life.  Fiction should always be escapist and satisfying.  It should raise us up out of our miserable life and show us that a better reality exists.  The bad guy must always get his reward.

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