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.

 

15 thoughts on “Do Your Characters Worry About Money?

  1. I always thought that the “billionaire love interest” trope was a good way to circumvent any money/working problems. Kind of hard to have a full week’s worth of romance when one of them works 80-hour weeks!

    As a reader, I prefer my characters to have no money woes. Or car troubles, for that matter. You know, the real life stuff we deal with that suuuuucks. I want to escape that, not get more of it 😀

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Finally! It was definitely wish-fulfillment when I was a kid to read books in which the protagonist was an heiress or a princess for whom adults willingly offered food, clothing, and help. But it becomes tiresome to read about protagonists who never worry about making rent, supporting themselves, or following a regular work schedule.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Yes. My fiction largely takes place in the real world. The principal character of my longest piece is a pensioner living on the poverty line. His life gets better, but it’s relative. An individual who doesn’t have to think about money is a trope writers would do well to treat with caution.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I actually have a paranormal investigation team that makes money as a result of their investigations. So I don’t have to have individual jobs for them. In other books I oft times arrange for my characters to be on some type of temporary leave or vacation, to act out their character parts. Otherwise, it is very difficult to remember to have character fill in a day’s work while acting out an unrelated part in the story. Unless you have a detective or vocation that dove-tails right into the plot.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. Well my protagonist is extremely poor, he is a supposed orphan (he does not know who his parents are, when his birthday is, or what his birth name was, but he gave himself the name Finn and guesses he is about thirteen), living alone on the streets. He cares a lot about money of course, because it is extremely valuable for him, but not in the sense that you are saying. This is a really good point. I haven’t really read many non-realistic fiction stories where the characters struggle like that.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. My previous novel has a character, not a main character but he is a pivotal one and in pivotal scenes, in which he is unemployed.

    And in my WIP, the main character becomes unemployed and I examine some of the issues that go along with it.

    Like

  7. I have a middle-grade manuscript, a journey story, and the MC is very focused on the money he has and making it last. It’s pretty central to the story. I guess I’m the odd person out on this.

    Like

  8. As a kid I remember wondering why money was never mentioned in – for example – the Moomin stories (except for an incident in which Moomintroll decides not to buy trousers). Later I mused the same, about people’s workplaces. I came to the conclusion that most work, and nearly all matters of money (except where greed or the fight for survival is part of the plot) simply lack the emotional firepower to make for an engaging story.

    Like

  9. Great topic. I sincerely cannot relate to stories without money issues. Thieves World and Jacqueline Carey gets it right in fantasy. Ludlum gets it right in cloak-and-dagger. It really matters. I grew up in the desolate years of the Reagan “Recovery.” Money and hungry days dominate my writing and goad my protagonists.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I love stories, especially fantasy, with characters who at least have to consider money. I think one of the biggest reasons I prefer the Munsters to the Addams Family is that the Munsters worry about paying the bills and saving up to buy presents for their loved ones. It makes them more human despite being over-the-top, goofy monsters.

    Liked by 1 person

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