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Do Your Characters Worry About Money?

by Andrea Lundgren (originally posted on

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.

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