Fiction and economics

Not the root of all evilLet’s talk about money and fiction. Not the money you hope to make from your fiction, but how finance fits into your story.

What role does economics play in your plot? How much money do your characters have? How do they earn or obtain it? How do they spend it? How much do they save? How much debt do they have and can they keep up with payments? Which socio-economic class do they identify themselves in? What values or emotions do they put on money? How do they feel about the economic system they are part of?

In my occupational fiction, economics plays an important role and shows up in different ways. Characters build identities and establish relationships through their work. Money affects everything about these characters, from the clothes they wear to the food they eat.

Money is also the root of their fears, such as losing their job or being forced out by competition from other workers. If they have sick family members, they worry about being unable to afford medical care. When characters’ morals clash with their financial concerns, they are forced to make difficult decisions.

Economics also figures into many of the books I enjoy. The Harry Potter series establishes a complex magical financial system, and we also see the gap between the poor (Iike the Weasleys) and rich (like the Potters and Malfoys). It becomes one of the points of tension, along with power and racism (Mudbloods versus pure-bloods) in the series.

The Handmaid’s Tale describes economic as well as sexual subjugation. Taking away a woman’s right to work was the key to Gilead’s repression. When women have no access to money, they became financially dependent on men. Financial dependence leads to physical dependence, which leads to exploitation. The MeToo movement shows the consequences of when women’s economic well-being becomes dependent on powerful men who can abuse and exploit them.

This is why showing economics in fiction is important. We can highlight critical issues like economic disparity, life/work imbalance, workplace coercion, and many others. Stories can help us define what we want from our careers, develop healthy attitudes towards money, see our responsibilities to society and those who are denied economic opportunity. Plenty of non-fiction books show you how to make money, but fiction helps you realize what you are making it for.

Economics shapes our lives in a number of ways. Look for ways to incorporate it into your stories. It can enrich your fiction and help you make an impact on our world.