Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Economic Fiction: Incentives and Disincentives

So, we understand that characters make choices with how to use limited resources. We also understand that those characters need drive, and they need values.

Once they have these things, how do they decide between two courses of action?

Obviously, the first factor is deciding if their choice helps them with their goal or not. But what about choosing between two likely paths?

If you're driving to a friends house far away, and you pick a highway known for many police officers watching your speed. If you go faster than the limit, you can get to your friend's significantly faster, but you're also more likely to end up paying a fine.

What decision do you make?

That's going to depend entirely on the balance of how valuable time with your friend is, and how expensive that ticket is likely to be. To put it into a principle:

People respond to incentives and disincentives.

So your character is going to need to decide (Quickly, usually) which path is going to be 'better' for him and which is least likely to be 'worse'. This is, of course fiction, and the bad stuff is going to come regardless, but don't let our characters act with that knowledge!

Incentives in fiction are a bit different than in the real world, but not by much. Getting significantly closer to our goal is an incentive worth using. Gaining something that will grant the character a significant advantage in any conflict is an incentive. A safe place to live is not an incentive, unless there's significant conflict in obtaining it, and then it's the final goal.

Disincentives are obviously harmful actions. 100% chance of getting locked in a cell is a pretty obvious disincentive. Being found while incognito is also a very strong disincentive.

Get creative, use the carrots and the sticks, your readers will love it!

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