Harper Lee’s new novel, Go Set a Watchman, was released this week. I was so excited about it – pre-ordered it from Amazon and intended to crack the spine the minute I got it. I loved To Kill A Mockingbird so I just knew I would love this one. I love, love, love Atticus Finch’s character. A character in my current WIP is named Finch, after Harper Lee’s character. Then I saw some of the headlines regarding the character of Atticus Finch. A benevolent racist – WHAT??!!??
I have the book sitting on my desk, but now I’m not sure that I want to read it. I plan to wait and talk to people that I know with fiction opinions that I respect after they’ve read it. Family and friends who know what I like have given me good recommendations about books/shows that they think I will like/dislike. I won’t like Game of Thrones (too violent). I would like House of Cards (of course, my husband is going to be an extra on that show so I’ll have to watch those episodes at the very least).
But my point is that in a lot of ways, authors have contracts with their readers that span several areas. If you call a story a romance, then it needs to conform to, at the very least, the big two touted by RWA: central love story, HEA (although there are more expansive definitions that I prefer). If it’s a thriller, or paranormal, or YA, there are elements that the story needs to include as a part of the contract. In addition, there are other contracts, like writing style, or character development, or tone, etc, that sets expectations for the reader. For example, I used to read Lisa Jackson and then she started killing off characters that I liked so I stopped.
Then there is the contract regarding a central character who appears in more than one story. Abrupt changes break the contract. I realize that 20 years has passed since Atticus defended Tom, but I don’t think Atticus Finch was portrayed as a racist in TKAM. Reviews suggest that he changed in the 20 years since Scout and Jem and Dill ran around Maycomb, Alabama. I’m withholding judgement until some people that I know read it and share their opinion.
How strong are your feelings about contract? Are you okay when a writer breaks it? Or do you throw the book against the wall when it happens?