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A Brief Note About a Story’s Economy

By Daniel Yocom

April is the time of year that brings a mixture of emotions for many people. Some know it as spring, with changes in the air. Others know it as tax time. Change is an important part of telling a story which is covered many times. The economics of a story aren’t talked about as much.


What I mean about the economics of a story is more than the monetary system your characters are using. They can be using dollars, gold, rupees, or credits, in many ways this isn’t anything that can drive a story forward. But what about the individual economics of the characters in the story. How do they acquire the money or goods they need?


L.E. Modesitt Jr. was an economic advisor for the government when he started his writing career. At one conference I heard him talk about the importance of an economic system for the story. It is important to remember that how goods and services are exchanged will impact how people live.

On the macroeconomic level a barter system will be different than a capitalist system which would be different

than a market economy or any of the other forms used. The larger form being used will influence how different levels in society operate. They can even use several different types at the same time. Like, the lowest levels of society using a barter system while the government uses a market economy while the clergy take care of their own with a socialist system.

Microeconomics is how smaller groups or individuals manage their resources. In our current economic system this is generally seen as income versus outgo. Again, there is usually more to what is happening in a person’s life when it comes to their finances. It is at this level I’ve recently seen stories that have created conflicting elements in the story.


The personal level of the money the characters have, and the way they earn it, has a big impact on how they live their lives. It can provide a level of consistency that is sometimes missed. Here is an example I recently came across to illustrate what I mean. Some of the details have been changed.


Ali lived in an apartment she could barely afford on the wage she was earning selling dresses. She scrimped on her meals and seldom ate out most months, it was all she could do to pay her bills. Ali cherished her collection of antique ceramic figurines and when she found another one available at the little shop, she bought it to add to her collection.


This by itself could be used as a good point to build with. In this case the author kept referring to their characters’ lack of money and how it was affecting the way they lived their life, except the character seemed to magically have the money to add to their collection. Again, I think there was something missing in the story the author had probably figured out, but it was never told to the reader, which left this as a mismatch in how the character lived.


My point to you in all of this is to consider the economic system your character lives in. Based on those economics how they live. It can be presented as a minor aspect of the work, but it will play an important part in your story. When a character has a secure supply of resources, they will act differently than when they are struggling to make the payments on their apartment or putting food on the table for their children. I agree with what some are saying that isn’t always the case when it comes to those impulsive actions people take. That needs to be relayed through the writing to the reader. If I’m reading a book and the character is from a wealthy family, living in a large estate, and they have a serving staff catering to their needs, them not having clothes to socialize with the neighbors needs to be explained.

About the Author

Daniel Yocom writes about geeky things because people say to write what you know. Their love of the geeky, nerdy community dates to the 1960s through games, books, movies, and stranger things better shared in small groups. They’re an award-winning writer and editor of short stories, books, and hundreds of articles published by blogs, magazines, and gaming companies.

They enjoy attending conferences, conventions, festivals, sharing on panels, and presentations. They currently serve on the boards of the LTUE Writing Symposium and the League of Utah Writes as the president of the Infinite Monkeys Genre Writers chapter, they want to help others become the writer/author/creatives others desire to be.


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