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They're So Money

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Apr. 17th, 2010 | 08:56 pm
mood: amusedamused

(This title is meta-relevant because I just won a contest at the lovely Reading in Color blog, and the prize is the YA novel She's So Money by Cherry Cheva. The contest was a random drawing, so not a demonstration of any Mad Skillz on my part, but woo free book!)

Now, on to the non-meta relevance! Discovering the highly silly Forbes Fictional 15 list (check out the slideshow, too) got me thinking about wealthy characters. There's a surprising amount of stuff you can do with ridiculously rich characters in writing, especially fantasy.


  1. "You think I can tie my own cravat? I have people for that!" You can show readers a lot about the society in which your characters live. Where do the super-rich get their money - land, trade, crime? What does a wealthy person in this society own - a big house, lots of livestock, extravagant clothes, oodles of servants, titles? Do they get out of normal societal responsibilities (say, the draft)? Do they have extra responsibilities? What do they do day-to-day? How do the rich relate to those with less, and vice versa?

    If the wealthy characters you're writing about are exceptions to some rule of their society, you can use other people's reactions to show this.


  2. "The best doctors and mages in the country couldn't save Mummy's arm, but they did make her a new one that throws lightning." Super-rich characters give you the opportunity to outline the limits of your world. If it would interest or aid them, they're likely to have access to the absolute cutting edge in your world's technology (unless there's a reason they can't - perhaps the technology is secret or is too dangerous for the characters to want anything to do with it) and to the most powerful magic (again, unless something prevents it - some magic systems, for example, might have an ethical iffiness that could put off some characters). Basically, if it can be done in your world, the wealthiest people will probably be able to do it.


  3. "I'm expected at the palace tomorrow anyway. You can come if you wear a maid's uniform and keep quiet." If motivated, rich characters may provide a means that moves the plot. They can be a poorer character's ticket into social circles or events, pull some strings to get the character options, or simply offer a horse or magic item that the character needs.


  4. "We'll take the lot." Remember this line from the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone movie? (I don't remember his exact line in the book, and sadly my copies aren't here.) Wish fulfillment: fun to read, fun to write. It can be neat to think for any character, "What would s/he do if s/he could afford to do anything?" A rich character can then actually do it.



I personally prefer to have wealthy characters in the supporting cast to using them as protagonists, although three of the POV characters of Lord of the Dark Downs come from an extremely rich family. But I do love my gazillionaire supporting characters. Unbelievably, I'd never realized this, but every one of my novels has at least one person or family who's rolling in money. I blame my love of rambling mansions as settings, and of fops. Besides the POV characters in Lord of the Dark Downs, none of my protagonists are rich - indeed, several of them have virtually nothing. (Because nothing is more fun than kids who wind up exploring someone else's big crazy mansion, isn't that right, DWJ?)

Anyway! While the Forbes Fictional 15 list is awesome, it only seems to include characters from a world that's assumed to be the same as our own. (Well, except for maybe Scrooge McDuck.) I'm sure it was hard enough to estimate characters' wealth without having to translate currencies between universes, but since I read (and write) a lot of alternate-world fantasy, I find it fun to think about. Who would you nominate for an inter-universal list? (Let's avoid deity-type characters who, within their own continuities, own all of existence. Because that's, you know, cheating.)

My nominations would include:

  • Amy Wong of Futurama

  • Tamaki Suoh of Ouran High School Host Club

  • Sir Percy Blakeney, Baronet of The Scarlet Pimpernel



Who . . . wow . . . actually all come from what's supposed to be some version of our own world. I was initially thinking Christopher Chant as Chrestomanci, but I don't actually think he's all that rich. After all, he's an honest government employee. He just has a big house. And I realize that a lot of alternate-world fantasy has royalty and nobility who are assumed to be rich, but a big enough deal isn't specifically made of it for me to want to include them here.

Still, I'm probably forgetting tons of people. Who would you pick?
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from: magic_7_words
date: Apr. 18th, 2010 01:31 am (UTC)
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I assume Harry Potter counts as being from a version of our own world?

Let's see. Off the top of my head, characters in fictional universes who have money:

-Mat Cauthon from Wheel of Time. Starts off as lower-class, but over the course of the first couple books discovers his ability to cheat at dice by warping probability. One of my favorite lines in the series occurs when Mat is frustrated by people who look at his lifestyle and assume he must be nobility: "He was going to start having "I am not a bloody lord" embroidered on his coats." (I love this quote because really, how much money do you have to burn before you start thinking in terms of having things embroidered on your coats?)

Aaaand I'm thinking, and I'm having some trouble coming up with characters for whom money is a salient attribute, rather than simply part of the trappings of nobility. Smaug the dragon.

Part of it, I think, is that so many fictional universes are pseudo-feudal, so wealth and class are often linked. You could have a merchant who's made his/her own fortune and is looked down upon as "new money," but most rich characters in fantasy command enough respect in high society that their social standing plays more of a role in the plot than their wealth.

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Anica Lewis

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from: anicalewis
date: Apr. 18th, 2010 02:35 am (UTC)
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That's a good point. I also think a lot of these characters are old money, so they often aren't flashy with their wealth.

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"Also, I can kill you with my brain."

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from: toastedcheese
date: Apr. 18th, 2010 02:17 am (UTC)
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Why are almost all the people on that list male? (I mean, I know why, but it makes me sad, since this is fiction after all!) Write me some fabulously wealthy women, Nic!

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Anica Lewis

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from: anicalewis
date: Apr. 18th, 2010 02:33 am (UTC)
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I noticed that, too. For what it's worth, roughly half the Jamersons (and two of the three who have POV sections in Lord of the Dark Downs) are female. Though the money comes from their father's side of the family . . . curses. You're right. I need to write some rich wimmenz.

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