Money makes the world go round. I’ve written about remembering to feed your characters before, but another important character trait to remember is how they make that paper!
Here are some tips on funding your character’s lifestyle.
The easiest way to handle a character’s finances is to give them a job. Many coffee shop stories happen in the coffee shop because one of the characters works there. Hell, practically every rom-com ever made has one of the main character’s meet their love interest because of work. (We’re all thinking about The Wedding Planner, right?)
Stories can revolve around a character’s place of work, too. In the 1995 classic The Net, Sandra Bullock’s position as an analyst is central to the plot. And because her tech job pays well, the audience doesn’t question how she can afford a trip to Mexico or keep her mother in a nursing home indefinitely.
To use an example from this century, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s main character Rebecca Bunch is an extremely successful lawyer, easily making six-figures. So it’s not completely unfeasible for her to buy a house in West Covina and move 3,000 miles to chase down a man. As a viewer, we don’t question how she can afford the trip because we know she’s rich AF.
Sometimes a character’s story arc requires them to be unemployed. If that’s the case, then, as the writer, you need to plan for them to have money somehow. There are literally a million and a half ways to fund a character’s expenses and not have them tied to a 9-5 job.
Gillian Flynn has an excellent solution in her novel, Dark Places. Main character Libby Day is an unemployed layabout who lives off money donated to her after her family was massacred. In the CW show No Tomorrow, Xavier lives off credit cards – which becomes a problem for him later in the season when his debts need to be paid.
Other potential solutions include:
- have the character be on unemployment
- rich daddy pays for everything
- actor/writer/artist – paid lots of money sporadically
- international thief (Ocean’s Eleven, Entrapment)
- poor person living nickel to nickel, eating Ramen 24/7
- drug dealer (Walter White from Breaking Bad)
- pickpocketer (the street gang from Oliver Twist)
- nanny (Fran Fine from The Nanny)
- housekeeper/house staff (Raquel from The Maid)
- underage characters
- rich inheritance (Harry Potter from Harry Potter)
- gov’t funded (Doc Brown from Back To The Future)
Look, I get it. Not every tale can be about people working. Sometimes, you gotta write about hobbits destroying priceless jewelry, and spending time thinking about how characters make their money isn’t a primary factor. But it’s important to consider how a character obtains and uses money to add a sense of reality to your work. And nothing makes readers quit reading than an inability to suspend disbelief – so make sure you put some effort into a character’s cash flow.
Read more about making your story realistic by remembering to feed your characters.