Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Economic Fiction: Purpose and Principles

Last week I introduced you to economics as a subject. I also promised you I'd explain how to use economics to improve your fiction.

We begin with behavior. Have you ever done anything completely randomly? If you said yes, I'd question you.

'Well, I went to the movie just because I felt like it!'

Of course. You felt like it. It wasn't random, even if it wasn't preplanned.

So that brings me to my principle of economics:

People engage in purposeful behavior.

People don't do things because that's how it happened. They chose to do them. Characters cannot be any different. Our characters need to move forward with purpose, even if that purpose is misguided, misled, or intentionally wrong.

In order to determine what our character's drive is, we need to set some goals. They need to want something. Every scene, every chapter, every arc, and every story. There have to be goals.

How do we determine our character's goals then?

Let's go back to us for a moment. How do we make goals? I'm not talking about methodology, what kinds of things do we make goals about?

Things that have value to us. We start diets because being fit is valuable. We get educated to get a better job because of the value. We teach ourselves to be damn fine writers because we perceive a value in it.

So, that's it, isn't it?

People have different personal values.

What you value and what I value are probably different. Obviously, if you're reading this, you value my thoughts. I'm giving them away, so I may not be valuing them enough. (You guys should totally let me know if I'm on to something here.)

So we give our characters values. The freedom fighter is a freedom fighter because he believes in equality. That guy next to him, who's also been described as a freedom fighter, he's doing it because his dearest is shackled to an arranged marriage and he wants a chance.

Already we see these two characters are vastly different. Just because of their personal values.


We need to give our characters solid goals so they can act with purpose. Goals make characters interesting, action makes plot. But that's not all great characters need, and it's not the limit of plot.

Read the next post here.

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