Do Your Characters Worry About Money?



by Andrea Lundgren

It’s a topic that, in real life, we think about more than we’d like to admit: how much we make, how much we can spend, and how we can make more money all has a place in our thoughts.

(And if we’re being completely honest, we’d have to say that making money from writing is partly why we’re so interested in publishing in general and writing blogs in particular, as we scour the internet to find out how to get published, when to get published, and what to write so our works sells well.)

But money and budgeting doesn’t seem to crop up nearly as much in fiction as one would think. There are whole genres–fantasy, science fiction, and young adult fiction in particular–where authors seem to write only about those too poor to worry or too rich to care. They may think about how rich they could become if, for example, they sided with the villains, or how to cover their paper trail by not using credit cards, but they don’t ever seem particularly strapped for cash.

In The Lord of the Rings, for example, Frodo never objects to the quest before him because of his financial situation. He doesn’t interrupt the Council of Elrond to say, “Ah…Gandalf, I really can’t afford to go to Mordor. You see, there are bills, back home…grocer’s and the tailor’s. I left rather quickly, and they might even foreclose on my house if I don’t get back soon. You know how the banks can be these days.”

This is equally true of more recent fantasy works. Aside from the dreadful prospect of being classless, no one in Divergent seems to care about money. Tris certainly doesn’t think about budgeting and whether she can afford her next tattoo, and how long it’ll take to get another one…but then, that was young adult fiction, and how many young adults really think about money and budgeting and where their next cell phone payment will come from?

Older literature seemed to think about money a bit more. Dickens discusses it quite a bit in Little Dorrit, for instance. The hero has to get a job, and worries about whether he should invest his savings in a “sure thing,” and the heroine works and scrimps by on her meagre savings, trying to help her father not feel the insult and agony of debtor’s prison.

And, even in more romantic novels like Pride and Prejudice, characters think about money. Mr. Bingley wouldn’t be worth half the trouble Mrs. Bennet puts forth  (troubling “her poor nerves” to make sure he is introduced to her daughters) if it wasn’t known for a fact that he has a great deal of money. And would Elizabeth have fallen in love with Mr. Darcy if, in addition to his ungentleman-like conduct, he wasn’t in possession of such a house as Pemberley?  🙂

Maybe I just read the wrong sorts of novels, but even some literary fiction and romance seems to focus on rich, privileged people who are well enough off that they don’t have to worry about money. Which lets them think about something else–like saving the world, reflecting on the nature of life, or maybe just making a particularly cute guy fall in love with them.



Guest post contributed by Andrea Lundgren. Andrea enjoys books and all things writing–from how we write to why we write–and her blog explores things from a writer’s point of view.




13 thoughts on “Do Your Characters Worry About Money?

  1. Haha, interesting point. I guess I hadn’t thought about it much, but it’s true––it seems like most books either focus on very wealthy or very poor people, and characters don’t seem to spend much time thinking about money/budgeting.


  2. The hobbits live in an agrarian society. You have to be part of the industrial world–a world Tolkien hated–to be worried about money. (Tolkien describes Saruman, you’ll recall, as having “a mind of metal.”) And Gimli, a dwarf whose familial wealth comes from mining, becomes, by the end of the adventure, a creature “over whom gold shall have no dominion.”

    Dickens is often all about money as a motive force (*Great Expectations* and *Bleak House*, to name only two.) So is Austen, as she’s trying to get all those women properly married in her novels.

    One of the offputting things about Hana Yanagihara’s *A Little Life* is that the four main characters are all well-to-do and therefore have the time to constantly introspect about their lives. But we never see until very late in the novel (Jude in his law office) any of them earn that money–sweat for it–as people actually do. In that respect, *A Little Life* is about as realistic as an episode of *Friends* was.

    Oddly enough, having money does enable one to reflect on money’s usefulness. Take *Game of Thrones* (*A Song of Ice and Fire*). The Lannisters, as powerful as they are, are a family deep in debt to the Bank of Braavos. Part of the nastiness of Tywin Lannister (nastiness that gets him murdered by his own son) comes from the constant need for money to maintain power. But Tyrion, the son who murders him, comes to the same realization that Pip does in *Great Expectations*: money is not and cannot be the source of happiness, but money can be and will be a destructive force unless we who use it are clear about what money ought to be used for. Those decisions have nothing to do with money itself, but everything to do with who we wish to be. None of the choices Tyrion has made (thus far) has anything to do with dollars and cents.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. It’s a great question – But the follow-up that I think we must consider: Should they? Do we read to see Frodo toiling away constantly trying to make sure he can keep the lights on in the burrow? Or do we read to see him out saving the world? I’ve seen modern literature where a job is part of the process, although it is glossed over (especially non-genre literature). In some cases, like crime mysteries, the job (and thereby how they make money) is the focal point of the story.
    We also often don’t see bathroom breaks (unless it’s at a really inopportune time), illness (unless it’s a character trait, or life-threatening), and social calls without ulterior motives or as a part of a subplot to provide inspiration on the main plot.
    I would guess this stems from the concept in writing where we are trained to cut out all non-essential words. Unless money is an important property (no pun intended) of the story, it needs to go. I wonder what we lose from such merciless editing? Do we make shallower characters, or do we make room for more drama?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. In my children’s play “Time Trip: A Dinosaur Musical” the dinosaur and crocodile characters do not mention money, although they do talk about hunting for food. I suppose that’s similar to a human worrying about money. The human characters in the play are scientists from a 22nd century research center that has sufficient funds to build a time machine. I assume money is not a problem for them.

    I am currently editing a novel for adults called “Red Flags”, which is set mostly in the Soviet Union. Money is a concern for those characters, although in a different way. Everyone has a job and makes an adequate salary, but in their communist society there is little to buy with that money. You might have enough money to buy your kid a new coat, but when you go to the store there aren’t any coats, or the coats that they do have are the wrong size for your child. You might be able to afford a car, or a better apartment, but in order to get these things you have to put your name on a waiting list. If you want to move up higher on that list, you have to make friends with the right people or trade favors with them. In my story, the main character is a world class figure skater. To put it simply, by the time this girl is 12 years old she has more economic power than her parents. This creates conflict in an already troubled family.


  5. I have to admit, I never write about money and its concerns in my stories. Who knows how my characters make money? Oh well hahha. Oh and I’d say my motivation is definitely to make money from my novels – but only so that I can write full-time !


  6. Dickens discusses it quite a bit in Little Dorrit,

    Dickens was writing in a time when there was not just an enormous divide between the haves and the have nots, but also in a time before child labour laws, before the social democracy movement, before socialism, before the rise of The Labour Party, before working time directives and other laws to prevent worker and child exploitation, in a time of the horrific standards in the work houses. Dickens writing was as often politically motivated as it was to tell a story.

    To write about money worries is ok so long as it relevant to the plot. A gambling addict who is teetering close to the edge of another bet when she should be buying food for the family drives the plot and drives conflict that is at the heart of fiction. Frodo saying he won’t go to Mordor because he has to do his tax return and is already late because he couldn’t find his receipts would work as comic relief, but nothing more.

    Interesting subject though, and it’s amazing how little focus there is on the mundane. I don’t think any of my characters have ever been to the toilet and they rarely drink or eat.


    1. I guess this raises another question–why were people in the past drawn to plots that involved money, and why do so many of our modern plots avoid it?

      Great comments, everyone. I’m enjoying reading the feedback. 🙂


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