Realistic or Not: Social Reactions in Fiction

Is the end of Pollyanna--where the towns
people rally around--realistic? Yes, because
Pollyanna's actions and their responses to her
prepare us for their behavior.
One problem in writing is trying to determine how "society" will react to a situation.
Will all the townspeople gather together to support the main character in some terrible situation?

Or burn the main character at the stake?

Or ignore the main character and go about their lives?
The problem is that no one really knows. Still, it is fairly easy as a reader to determine a writer's insight into human nature by how quickly that writer falls back on "all human beings are evil; the town strode out with pitchforks" reaction--that is, how readily the writer falls back on "all human beings other than my tiny little group behave exactly the same for the same reasons."

It's a Wonderful Life is less realistic. The concentration
on flashbacks means that the audience hasn't seen any
evidence of prior good behavior from the townspeople.
Of course, trying to explicate all the various reactions--based on differing reasoning, motives, justifications, moods, and needs--can bog a story down. There's a reason Star Trek fell back on individual large groups as holders of single traits/arguments (see Diane Duane's Spock's World for a great example of when Vulcans don't agree with each other). 

I would argue that a writer's job is not merely to pick a particular social reaction--Shakespeare CAN have everyone just shrug and agree when Fortinbras shows up--but to make sure the clues are in place for that particular reaction.

I recently read a time travel series out of order. I knew from the latter books that the main character's best friends were suspected of his murder when he disappeared--and I accepted that idea--

Only to arrive at the first book and discover that the main character was an entire plane ride away from his friends when he disappeared. Law enforcement officers (representatives, in this case, of society's reaction to an event) are simply not that dumb. They would concentrate on the area/resort community at which he was staying, focusing on the owners, their guests, and possible miscreants in the area.

Which doesn't mean that weird or black swan events can't happen to people--friends could get on a plane--but events in fiction should have a patina of realism. Real life can be very weird. In fiction, response needs to equate to conditions.

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