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L J Hippler

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Money, Class and Living Well in Fiction
5/8/2008 5:55:34 PM

“It is not easy for a man to rise whose qualities are thwarted by poverty.”
Juvenal (Latin poet) 127AD

“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
Benjamin Franklin 1789
"If I had a million dollars. If I had one wish. I’d ask for a big enough ass for the whole world to kiss.”
Eminem 2002
If we get right to the heart of it, the primary motivation of most fictional characters are money and sex (and usually in that order). Monied people are our equivalent of royalty. Where Shakespeare got the attention of his audience by introducing them into the lives of princes, dukes and nobles, we do the same with billionaires, millionaires and “well-offs”. I think the way they came to be “well off” is the better story. How does your character become financially independent when she’s been held down by the world around her?
We all know that wealth and class aren’t necessarily synonymous. Shallow, ignorant people are sometimes blessed with wealth while decent, intelligent people can be held down and minimized by their circumstances. It happens. Life isn’t fair; but we want it to be. As fiction writers we have the power to make those things work out for our characters. And how fulfilling is that? Think of: Trading Places, Pygmalion, Le Mis. The author has the power to make it right.
I think how we solve their problem is the key to creating drama. Economists tell us that the generators of wealth are time, risk and inheritance. Inheritance is the equivalent of luck. There’s no tension or struggle. Risk though, is great, putting it all on the table in a card game, a stock trade or a horse race. We can have fate right the wrongs done to our characters in a few powerful seconds. Even being miserly can be exciting in its own way. Just surviving long enough to come back is drama, like Abbe’ Faria, the imprisoned priest in The Count of Monte Cristo. He survives years of imprisonment because he knows one day he’ll be needed again. Maybe, on a smaller scale, saving pennies, making them grow, longing for the day when it will be enough to make a difference can become a healthy plot line.
Money, in our society, is the benchmark for success. It’s how we keep score. Despite the physical implausibility in Eminem’s line, he makes a wonderful point. One advantage of great wealth is the opportunity to wave it in the face of our detractors. It’s a dream for most of us, expressed or not. There’s a reason the phrase “Take this job and shove it.” became a song, a movie and a mantra for a generation of Americans.
Living well really is the best revenge, whatever your definition of living well may be. Living well is really being where you belong in life. It may involve financial independence; but it doesn’t have to. Living well is not that simplistic. You’ll know it when you get there. And what better way to end a story, your hero doesn’t ride off into the sunset, he just begins living well.

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More Blogs by L J Hippler
• A Little Validation - Tuesday, November 16, 2010
• Curb your enthusiasm – but let the bigotry fly. - Tuesday, November 03, 2009
• Best Case, Worst Case and Most Likely - Monday, December 29, 2008
• On Hotness - Sunday, November 16, 2008
• The Week That Was - Sunday, October 12, 2008
• When-and Where-You are Gaius - Monday, September 15, 2008
• Dialog - Monday, August 18, 2008
• Recession, Economics and Dead Men Walking - Wednesday, July 16, 2008
• There’s No Place Like . . .Where Your Stuff Is. - Monday, June 30, 2008
• A Little Validation - Thursday, June 05, 2008
•  Money, Class and Living Well in Fiction - Thursday, May 08, 2008  

• LIVING small - Monday, March 31, 2008
• Who is bigger-than-life? Who’s not? - Friday, February 29, 2008
• You write what now?” - Thursday, January 31, 2008
• About last night . . . - Monday, December 31, 2007
• Here's the thing . . . - Thursday, November 22, 2007

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