June 16, 2003

Poor vs Rich characters

At Forward Motion, there was a poll on writing rich vs poor characters. Which did the writers like to write better. Here's what I had to say on the matter.

Making up a likible character is a balancing act of good and bad qualities. For every good quality, you can give them a bad quality. Stated another way, if you give a character a flaw, to make them likible, you need to give them pluses. Average is, unfortunately, boring; to make a character interesting, you need to also build symapthy by giving them good qualities.

Money doesn't make readers like a character, but it is a sign of the main character's abilities.

If they are born into a rich family, there a level of assumed refinement. They will have the best schooling (well educated), wear nice clothes (good looking), and be luckier than the average person. Born wealthy is easily translated to 'capitalistic' Prince/Princess.

A self-made millionaire (er, these days its billionaire, sigh, inflation) is considered intelligent, hard working, and lucky.

Readers like people that have good qualities. A wealthy character gets them in tied up in money bags, so you can actually give your character negative attributes and still have them 'likable.' Think of Citizen Kane.

I'm not saying that one should write only millionaires. I'm pointing out that the inverse, by the very nature, comes out as negative. Dirt poor isn't really the character's fault, any more than being of ugly, stupid, and short. Certainly, in literature, people like 'the Waltons' (originally named the Spencers, I'm not sure why they changed it from such a classy name) were dirt poor, but this was off-balanced by being a warm, loving, hard-working family.

You can do dirt poor, just be aware that most readers will see if as a negative and you'll have to stack the positives to balance it.

Posted by wen at June 16, 2003 11:10 PM