Most of us don’t know a lot about money. We might know how to spend money, we might even be able to handle our own finances well (… well, you might: I kind of suck at it), but I find relatively few authors who double as economists and really understand how money works in the broad strokes. This is true for modern authors as well as for fantasy and science fiction authors. However, modern authors have the advantage of never having to create their own economic systems… fantasy and science fiction authors don’t. So, one question that you need to answer in your writing is: How does money work?
There are a lot of lesser questions involved in this, and I’m probably going to take a few posts to treat them, or at least the one’s that I actually understand. However, the single most important question, and the question that most of us would never think to ask (I actually just realized this myself… I’ve been listening to a course on Chinese history that deals heavily with their economics), is: how do the people of your world think about money?
Generally there are two ways that a culture conceives of money. Either money is an abstract entity that does not necessarily have a physical existence (the American economy is a good example of this), or money is tied directly to some physical product. Steven Erikson and George R.R. Martin give us good examples of each of these concepts in a fantasy setting in the Malazan Book of the Fallen series (Midnight Tides and following) and the Song of Ice and Fire series.
Until fairly recently (historically speaking up until the past two hundred years or so) money has generally been thought of as physical wealth. For instance, trade was done in goods (i.e. gold, silver, food-stuffs, etc), and bartering was fairly common. While many nations had ‘money’ it was often restricted to mercantile classes, and other population groups would trade in goods (essentially a barter system). Even government taxes where historically paid in goods (for example, China didn’t begin collecting taxes in money until the 14th-15th century, and even then taxes were paid in silver). Thus wealth was an inherently physical entity. This physicality of wealth placed certain controls on how property changed hands (for instance, you couldn’t sell 100 bushels of wheat if you couldn’t transport 100 bushels of wheat), and on how money moved (The dominant currencies in China were silver and copper, although they did experiment with paper money in the 11th and again in the 15th centuries, but there was only so much silver and copper available, and thus wealth was limited). The concepts of debt and credit existed, but they did not dominate the civilizations, they were a relatively minor part of the economic system.
Martin effectively expresses this kind of system in his Song of Ice and Fire series especially well in the debt of the crown to the Lannisters. The debt of the crown is measured physically, and, because it is essentially unpayable, the Lannisters are able to use that physical debt to manipulate the crown.
Many modern economies have an abstract concept of wealth. Money is not an inherently physical entity, and thus spending and value also become abstract. Instead of directly selling goods or services the majority of people are employed by large corporate entities that pay a set wage and demand varying services in exchange. Both the wage and the services demanded are variable, but they are no longer truly dependent on one another. The abstract concept of wealth also means that debt and credit take on a much greater place in society. Debt becomes expected, instead of an extreme, and the amount of debt, and the manner in which it is handled, determines how much credit an individual is allowed. The more debt you have, the less credit is available, and the worse you handle the debt you do have, the less credit is available. This is important because credit becomes the primary source of purchasing power in an abstract economy. Instead of physical goods and wealth, an amount of credit is afforded to an individual depending on what how the individual can be expected to handle the debt that the individual accrues.
Erikson effectively embodies this abstract notion of wealth in his Letherii empire. By giving the Letherii empire an abstract concept of wealth, Erikson is able to build a believable society built on the concept of debt and credit in a fantasy setting. This is quite an achievement, but it also helps the reader to understand the importance of how we think about money in the first place, and of how we then act on those thought.
Sometimes you have good days, sometimes you have bad days, and sometimes you just have strange days. My day today has fallen into one of the latter two categories, but I’m honestly not sure which one. Well, I guess that’s what I get for getting up before 5 am. Anyway, it’s time for a scene challenge and I’m sure all of you are raring to go! So, you probably know the rules: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene. Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction. If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit. If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.
Your rules: This week you must write a 300+ word scene using sentences of no more than six words. Again, if you’ve been following the blog, then you’ve done this before. If you do this correctly then you should have at least 50 sentences in your scene. Your cue: ‘”…And then there was a monkey.” Frank’s smile nearly split his jaw….”
Here we have Abbie’s second to last post. Unfortunately she has decided not to stay with us here at the Art of Writing. However, she is an excellent writer and might contribute random posts at sometime in the future.
A child’s world is proportionately small, occupied by a few significant entities; it can be argued that, for a number of years, the most significant of those presences is the family. Thus, it is fitting that a prominent feature of many well-known faerie tales is the interplay of familial roles. Family dynamics can provide motivation for and produce powerful reactions from characters in a narrative. Moreover, family (in any of its myriad forms) is a universal institution which, when explored within fiction, summons readers’ empathy. A considerable fraction of any given audience will feel some slant of kinship to a character who competes with his siblings for his parents’ approval, or one who loses a parent and is alienated by the introduction of a stepparent. Although the circumstances of real life are typically much less extreme than the familial conditions of faerie tales, to an adult reader, the faerie tale account may hearken back to the hyperbolic way he viewed his situation when he was young.
One of the most prevalent faerie tale family occurrences is the death of a parent. Snow White, Cinderella, and Hansel and Gretel are all established as motherless near the beginnings of their stories. This creates the dynamic of a household out of balance, rendered unstable by the absence of one of its founding members. Though faerie tales in their original tellings are fairly sparse in their descriptions of characters and character interactions, the element of the unsteady home can easily be expanded upon in a contemporary narrative to have a complex and profound influence on the development of characters and their relationships. A father, suddenly left alone to raise his children while still coping with the loss of his wife, might become obsessively protective of those children. A teenage daughter, having lost her mother, might leave home to escape the unwelcome pressure of maternal responsibility for her younger siblings. Such a significant change in the home environment as the death of a parent is certain to bring forth any of a host of permutations in the remaining family members.
All of the aforementioned stories add an additional twist: the remarriage of the widowed father to a woman who does not look kindly on the children of her predecessor. In some cases, the stepmother has children of her own and perceives the presence of the others as a threat to her progeny; in others, her motives for mistreating her stepchildren are left unclear. The subject of child abuse, if approached in fiction, should be approached with maximum sensitivity and consideration – certainly with more nuance than it is addressed with in faerie tales. A less extreme incarnation of the stepparent-as-antagonist device would be an instance in which a child groundlessly interprets his new parent as an adversary. (This is a common usage, but not necessarily a trite one, if handled with care.) No home is without certain lines of tension, and a newcomer to the family is likely to blunder into at least a few of them soon after his or her arrival. Even if there is no actual ill-will involved, there is certain to be a touch of disquiet as the household adjusts to the establishment of a new member.
A third aspect of family dynamics is the broad spectrum of relationships which can exist between siblings – from reliance to rivalry. In the case of Hansel and Gretel, the former describes their interactions; they have been abandoned by adult protective figures and are thus forced to develop dependence on each other. The two young protagonists of “Brother and Sister” find themselves under circumstances nearly identical to Hansel and Gretel’s, and adapt in kind. In both of the respective faerie tales, the children’s situations were life-and-death; their bond of mutual support could as easily exist between siblings who defend each other from bullies at school or who encourage each other through bouts of illness. Though these are examples of ostensibly-positive relationships, sibling rivalry is just as dominant in the faerie tale canon. Cinderella’s stepsisters view her very much as competition for their worldly success, while a common trope in a number of lesser-known stories pits several siblings against each other in seeking their fortune. (In such stories, the youngest sibling is usually the one who succeeds – against all expectations.) Competition between siblings is an immensely adaptable motif which can apply to young children fighting for the choicest piece of cake or to adult siblings struggling to win the approval (and deathbed beneficence) of an elderly parent.
The commonality of the family unit and its internal interactions offers writers a great range of possibilities for eliciting change from their characters and empathy from their readers. Though faerie tales are today assumed to be the domain of children, the theme of family dynamics – one of the cornerstones of the faerie tale genre – is relevant to all audiences and ought to be valued as one of the most powerful devices in the writer’s arsenal.
Yoga helps my back. I’ve found that as I get older my back starts hurting more easily. At this point I’m accounting that to the fact that I’m getting older… and years of martial arts. However, I’ve found that hiking and yoga help immensely, in fact I only need to do about fifteen minutes of yoga and my back doesn’t hurt for most of the day, which is kind of awesome. I’m also finding that I rather enjoy yoga as well. In fact, ten or fifteen minutes of yoga after a half-hour workout is a pretty nice way to loosen up. Anyway, this all actually does have something to do with this week’s story challenge.
Your Challenge: Think of something that has been of significant help to you, whether physically, emotionally, spiritually, or mentally. Find something that helps you cope, relieve stress, pain, anger, fear, whatever, and then write a story that presents that thing, and the help it provides. This could be a first person story that explores your own thoughts and feelings, or it could be a third person story that tries to take an outside perspective.
Well, it looks like we’ve been nominated for another award here at the Art of Writing. Thanks to Rebecca Vance for her nomination for the Super Sweet Blogging award! However, in the interests of actually getting my work done tonight, I’m going to have to take an Honorary Super Sweet Blogging Award (you can see the rules at Becky’s blog). I’m happy to answer the questions, but I’m going to forgo the further nominations.
1. Cookies or Cake? Cookies, without a doubt.
2. Chocolate or Vanilla? Chocolate candy, Vanilla ice cream.
3. Favorite Sweet Treat? It really depends on the day. I have an eclectic palate.
4. When Do You Crave Sweet Things The Most? Generally at random times. Sometimes I can go for months without anything sweet, and other times I want something sweet every day.
5. Sweet Nick Name? … … … …Sweetpea.
Happy Saturday everyone, Neal here bringing you another philosophical story challenge in which I present to you a philosophical problem and you write a 100-1000 word story that deals with that challenge. This week’s challenge deals with the problem of identity. Some of you may be familiar with Theseus’ Ship, but for those who aren’t, it goes like this. Theseus has a ship in a harbor, if in the course of a year every single piece of the original ship is replaced with identical new pieces and the old pieces are then put back together, which one is Theseus’ ship and why? Similarly, this can be applied to humans because every cell in our body is replaced every 7-10 years and yet we do not seem to think this makes us new people. Where do you think identitiy lies?
I hate it when I have trouble sleeping, and I’ve had a lot of trouble sleeping the past few weeks. I’ve found that God has been trying to get my attention about something, and I think that’s why I’ve been sleepless, but it’s still incredibly annoying. Anyway, this week’s challenge is a picture challenge. Most of you will know what this is already, but for those who don’t: I’m going to give you a single picture, and I want you to design your setting around that picture. Note that your setting should revolve around the location pictured, but it should expand beyond the location pictured. In other words, you should use the picture provided as an anchor for your setting, and build a full setting around it. Your picture is below:
Hey guys, Neal here with a slight change in pace from my posts on magic. I haven’t had the time to research anything new and so I simply plan to do a brief philosophical discussion in line with my Philosophical challenge about freedom. I asked you to write a story answering whether or not you thought (radical/absolute) freedom was practical, but now I want to discuss the other extreme, commonly called determinism. This view, for those who do not know or cannot figure out, basically holds that every event is caused by a previous event going to back as far as time can tell; thus your choices and actions are an indirect result of events that happened thousands or millions of years ago. In short, you are not free, you. only appear to be. In creative writing, the interplay between freedom and determinism can be crucial to making a story work, and if it is properly executed it can serve to engage the reader on a desirable level.
Perhaps the most obvious reason for employing this discussion can be seen in a secondary world containing a deity or multiple deities. If these deities are creators are they also predeterminers? And if so, how does your story show that and how do the characters relate to it? And if they are not, what implications does this have on them in, say, the realm of knowledge. You can see what sort of problems may arise from either side of this. Consequently, a lot of writers adopt a compatibilist view that tries to reconcile freedom with determinism, but this can get boring to read if it is not done well. One of the best ways to do this well would be to research what actual theologians and philosophers say about it, since it is a problem that is common with any creative deity it is something that a lot of real people have to deal with in their line of inquiry.
One of my favorite portrayals of the freedom/determinism problem is seen in Tolkien’s The Silmarillion where he essentially divides humans in the primary world into two separate races—Elves and Men—in the fantasy world in order to portray different aspects more completely. In doing this, Elves were created as determined beings, linked to the Great Music, whereas Men were not bound by the music. Since both Elves and Men portray humanity in the real world, this interplay created a very interesting interplay between the two ideologies within the story while also developing an incredibly deep and believable history between the two races. Is that not what all writers are striving for?
It’s that time of the week again. That’s right, time for another scene challenge! Remember that doing a scene challenge doesn’t have to be just an exercise. This could be the start of a short story, or turn into a chapter in a novel. Don’t be afraid to alter the prompts some if you need to to suit your project! Also, even if you can’t go out with a friend, don’t be afraid to go people watching alone! Anyway, here’re the rules: I provide you with specific rules for how to write a particular scene. Try to keep your scene under five hundred words, and try to keep it in the same tone as the introduction. If I give a line that is very dark and depressing, then I don’t want to see a scene about a drunken monkey in a tutu…it just doesn’t fit. If I do give you a line about a drunken monkey in a tutu, then you should probably try for a funny scene.
Your challenge: Go out people watching with a friend. As you watch, try to write a scene of a little over 300 words describing what you see. When you’ve both finished your scenes, trade and read what the other person wrote. How did your perspective and personality affect the scene that you wrote? What did each of you focus on? What details are present in both stories, and what details are unique to each? Consider your particular viewpoints, attitudes, beliefs, and emotional connections. How did each of this affect your scene?
Alright, have fun and don’t be afraid to go back and work on this scene again!
I’m on vacation this week, visiting my family in Arizona. Therefore, I thought I’d share with you another creative work of mine. Next time, I’ll get back to writing more posts on…well, the actual art of writing. Anyway, this short story is actually from my Senior thesis, which was a collection of original short stories influenced by Gothic writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft. Now that the thesis has been published, I’m free to share some of it with you. Enjoy!!
Like a Nightmare
It hurt. I didn’t expect it to. I mean, it never seems to in the movies. Even in slow motion, it looks so quick. Painless. But it wasn’t. It was agonizingly endless, like those nightmares where you find yourself falling for hours until you either wake up or hit the bottom. They say that if you do land in one of those dreams, it’ll kill you. Rather unsettling to think about, isn’t it? Ever had a nightmare like that? Trip over a rock or someone pushes you and you just keep falling. Fear and Terror sitting on your shoulders, cackling in your ears, agonizing reminders that death is so very close, that your very heart is about to shatter within you. That’s kind of what getting shot in the head feels like. A brief shock burning through you, making you stumble, and then you begin to slowly fall earthwards, a brief moment of time ever expanding, a small second stretching into eternity as waves of panic envelop you in their cold embrace. And you know that when you stop falling, you die.
I know what you’re going to say – the metaphor doesn’t completely fit the experience. Of course it doesn’t. Nothing can really be compared to the pain you feel as that tiny piece of metal embeds itself in your brain. It just doesn’t stop. You fall and fall, the tiny jab of infernal fire growing faster than the time slows down, until it consumes you and your entire universe consists of the bitter shrieking of your own voice inside your head and the vengeful ravaging of nightmarish pain. That’s what being shot feels like. Your worst nightmares colliding…unimaginable agony and the endless fall, knowing that you’re going to die.
Did you hear the screaming? No, I guess not. I suppose to you, it happened far too quickly for any of that. A millisecond for you, an eternity for me. I wish you could have heard it. I wish you could have felt it. Even you would have been begging for mercy within moments, longing for sweet Death to ride up on his black steed and envelop you in his misty cloak, rather than live through one more second of that torture. Yes, even you, with your granite heart, your blustering bravado. Even you would have screamed.
How did you feel, I wonder? Relief, fear, joy, pain? It was such an artistic scene…you in your always immaculate suit standing so regal, so tall, so proud, with your pistol in your hand dangling limply by your side, slight wisps of grey smoke disappearing as quickly as they appeared. Standing over me, careful to not let your freshly polished shoes touch the scarlet liquid pooling under my neck and trickling down to stain my white dress. So dramatic. So unaware of the torture you were putting me through, even then. Maybe you thought the bullet would be the quickest way, the most painless way. I don’t think you really wanted me to suffer, did you? Maybe you did. But somehow, I don’t think so. You didn’t mean to revive my nightmares. You just wanted me dead. I don’t know why. I’ll probably never know, just as I’ll never know why you took the ring off of my marble finger and then put it back on again five minutes later. Maybe you don’t even know why.
It hurt, you know. And somehow, I don’t think you should be able to cause that much pain for someone and get away with it. No, no, I’m not going to kill you. How can I? I’m dead. You know that. And killing you right away would just be too simple. But I can some see you every night, you know. Talk to you, whisper sweetly in your ear, remind you of your sins. And I don’t think you’ll ever be able to get this image out of your head, will you? I think it will hurt you more than that friendly bullet of yours tortured me. Stay away from cliffs in your dreams, dear. Don’t stumble. Don’t trip. Don’t fall. You may never stop. But when you do stop…I think you know what happens next. Goodnight. I’ll see you in your nightmares.