Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Finishing Up the Q&A

Today I'll work a bit more on wrapping up the world-building questions asked back during our June Q&A.

DeeCee wrote: The one aspect that bothers me in Scifi/Fantasy/PNR is money. Characters can complain about it yet, they have it. ???

Money, personal wealth (or lack thereof) and economics in general can be an interesting aspect of world-building; I see it as primarily a tool for characterization and social structures versus a plot element. Other authors, particularly mystery writers, like money or a money-related subject as a plotting device, conflict catalyst, etc. I think it really depends on how much you like to write about money and the innumerable politics it spawns.

Like any element within your world-building your money system should be tailored to fit your universe and function within its boundaries. The traditional system is currency exchange, either in note or coin form, but you're not limited to established forms of money. Think of what would constitute personal wealth in your universe and found your economic system on that. In Frank Herbert's Dune novels, for example, spice is the most powerful (and therefore most coveted) substance in the universe, and as such the mining and control of it and the only planet it's found on determines who has absolute power. All the politics and conflicts within the Dune universe are directly related to spice and spice production, so it also serves as an immensely important story element. It's interesting how Herbert used spice to influence characterization as well as social and political structuring in the Dune series; dig down beneath all the layers of practically any element and at the bottom of things you always find spice as the prime motivation.

A money system can be based on just about anything as long as it functions as a plausible element of wealth and/or power within your universe. If you don't want to work with traditional currency, think about what else has value in your universe. We tend to value things that are very rare, that bestow power, that other people want, and/or that help us live better/longer/more comfortably. If some aspect of your world-building incorporates at least two of these values you've probably got a viable candidate for an alternate currency.

You should also consider at what stage of economic development your world is in, and shape your money system accordingly. For example, technologically primitive civilizations tend to rely heavily on actual physical possession of wealth, so you should build your money system to suit their needs via the tangible and collectible (aka rare minerals, land, slaves, or anything that can be physically taken, held, fought over, etc.) In a far-future society, in which most of the practical/physical concerns of everyday life have been resolved for everyone, your characters will need a very different monetary system; one that may be based on more abstract concepts of value, such as territorial dominance (the practice of aggressive colonization), promoting technological superiority (supremacy through scientific advancement) or wielding faith-based influence (using religion to promote cult behaviors).

Don't be afraid to be inventive with the monetary system(s) within your universe, either. As long as you can convince the reader something has value to your characters, it can serve as money (and to justify this I must once again point the finger at Frank Herbert, whose universally-desired spice in reality was nothing more than giant sand worm poop. I don't think you can invent a more implausible money system than that.) Just remember whatever you use has to have some significant value to your characters, and to figure out what that is you should take a very hard look at what they don't have, and what they really want, and design from there.

No comments:

Post a Comment