Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Characters: Wealth and Pragmatism

Continuing the series on the currently popular character attributes - Wealth, Dominance and Jackassery. First Post Index of the Whole Series (scroll down to the bottom of the post).  This week we're talking about Wealth.

ALL OF MY characters, even the ones I talked about Monday and Tuesday, have a pretty pragmatic take on wealth.  But the previous characters have a very loose attitude toward money, which may be best summed up by another character of mine.

Luther Cymck ("It's pronounced JIM-check!") is a not very bright but oddly wise bank robber from a screenplay called "The Scenic Route." (It's not available for you to read, but I'm working on it, okay?)

When he discovers that their Big Bank Robbery did not net them very much money at all, Luther institutes a new rule for his misfit gang:  Never count the money.

"There's only two amounts of money," he says.  "Either there's enough or there isn't."  And he points to the pile of loot and says.  "If you want to buy a pack of smokes?  It's enough.  Tank of gas?  It's plenty.  You want to buy a race horse, it's probably not enough.  At least for a good one."

And though it would be cool to own a race horse, he admits, it really isn't necessary, so the money they have is enough.

Today's characters are also pretty relaxed about money... but they have bigger plans.

A Romantic Age

The series these characters come from is what I call The Serial, or The Perils of Plink.  It takes place in a world inspired by the Golden Age of Silent Movies, and fiction of the same period.  So the characters are built on archetypes from an age when the world was changing rapidly.  Modernism seemed exciting and soulless, and old romantic values seemed on the wane -- but were much loved.  It was an age of revolution and social change -- which might have shaken up our ideas of good and evil, but still maintained a strong romantic sense that there _was_ such a thing as "good" and "evil."

(You can find a the rough draft of the first story here on the blog in serial form -- The Case of the Misplaced Hero.  It's also available for sale as an ebook, but I'm about to upload a new and improved edition, so wait until this weekend if you intend to buy it.)

Alex -- The Misplaced Hero

Alex is a rich, idle college student, much like Don Diego Vega (the guy who became Zorro).  He was raised by his odd-ball aunt to identify with Zorro, to emulate him.  But he was also raised in modern-day Michigan, and his aunt seemed to be talking literally about swordfights and rescuing peasants, so it seems like a game to him.

It's only when he finds himself in the world he thought she had made up that he realizes he can be everything he wants to be. He can save the world or at least people in it.

In the Case of the Misplaced hero, Alex is actually dropped into Awarshawa without anything but his clothes.  He has no money or access to it, and he doesn't care. He has left that world behind and found his destiny.

It's only when his sidekick, Professor Thorny, points out that wealth is a super-power -- it's what gave Batman and Zorro and The Scarlet Pimpernel the power to do great things -- that Alex realizes he needs his money.  And though we don't see it in that first story, I can tell you that when we meet him later on, he will be cultivating his wealth for use in heroism.

As for the "Million Jelly Beans Factor" I mentioned with the previous characters: there is no frivolous desire he would waste that money on.  He might use a million jelly beans as a diversion to help him distract the guards while he breaks into the secure facility to rescue the maiden or steal the document that will prevent a war.  He can be pretty playful, but if he does anything that seems self-indulgent, it'll be to mislead somebody about what he's really up to.

But that's the more mature Alex than you will see in the first story.

Alex's sidekick Thorny, on the other hand, was a cynical burnt-out shell of a college professor, and now he considers everything to be a wonderful indulgence -- even danger.  He'd be perfectly willing to shoot the wad on jelly beans.  Or more likely, Doritos.  (That's the one down side of an alternate universe -- no Doritos.)

And what would happen if Alex lost his fortune?  Nothing.  Alex would simply continue with different resources.  Maybe becoming like Robin Hood, and financing his adventures by robbing his enemies. And Thorny would enjoy that too.

Plink -- The Well-Placed Flapper

Plink is actually Lady Pauline, the Baroness of Beethingham.  She is just 21: young, beautiful, rich, and soaked in priviledge and social position, and she thinks it might be jolly good fun to use said wealth, power, etc., to have adventures and do good.  She is not as driven as Alex.  She doesn't really have a mission.

As far as Plink is concerned, jelly beans would be lovely.  There is nothing wrong with little excess, but only if you have people to eat them up.  Perhaps we could invite some orphans over or something.  That would make a smashing party.

However, in spite of Plink's frivolous site, she is not an airhead.  She has guts and enthusiasm, and she can be very serious and practical when she needs to be.

If Plink's wealth were taken from her, I think it would throw her for a loop.  But she's young and adaptable, so the circumstances that took her wealth away would be more traumatic than the actual loss of money.  That is, her wealth includes her staff, who are like a family to her.  Would the circumstance in which she lost her money cause them to lose their livelihood too?  Would everything she knows be destroyed or would she simply lose access to it?

But what is a more interesting question to me will eventually be brought up when Plink gets herself a sidekick (in a later story):  When her aunts insist that she take on a paid companion (in hopes of settling her down) she hires a poverty-stricken radical journalist, which is going to create some intersting "how the other half lives" scenarios, but since Lily is pretty young and naive herself, I think she's going to get more out of it than Plink will.

Which brings us to another side of the political situation in this alternate world:

Rozinshura - The Revolutionary Bureaucrat

Captain Rozinshura is an official in the Anarcho-Bureaucratic Republic of Awarshawa.  He isn't a bad guy -- more of an impact character, and sometimes hero of his own stories -- but his country is full of bad guys and also often in conflict with Plink's country of Imperia.

Rozinshura is more or less a communist.  But more than that, he was born at a time and place where he was pretty much in the army from birth.  It was an anarchist army, but all the same: there was never a time when he actually owned anything, his clothes are his uniform. His needs provided by the state.

And ironically, that makes him the most acquisitive person in the bunch.  That's partly due to his job: he's a facilitator which means he's in charge of distributing resources.  As far as he is concerned, that means he "owns" everything that comes under his sphere of influence.  It also means he is responsible for it, and he takes that very seriously.

He's kind of a reflection of George: since he "owns" everything around him, he doesn't really think much about possessing anything personally.  And if he believes you actually need a million jelly beans?  He will find a way to provide a truck load of the closest approximation thereof that he can acquire. 

UN-like George, however, Rozinshura will actually think it through.  He's a logistics guy.  Not only will he consider whether you actually need that many jelly beans, he will weigh cost/benefit ratio on expending the effort, and he will consider whether you actually have room to store a million jellybeans.  If you don't, you won't get a million of them.

On the other hand, if you do have room to store a million jelly beans, and he has a million jellybeans that need to be stored -- you may get them whether you want them or not.  And if you objected, he might throw up his hands helplessly and hand you a huge stack of paperwork to start the process of having them removed.  (There is a little bit of Sgt. Bilko in Rozinshura -- though it is more in his methods than his motives.)

What if you were to give Rozinshura an enormous fortune?

He'd thank you for this great gift to the Republic of Awarshawa.

It's not that he isn't self-indulgent.  If you gave him a basket of peaches, he might very well pick the largest and juiciest for himself.  But he loves his life, and he has no personal use for a diamond car or a million jellybeans or a grand fortune.  Not that he would ever turn such things down.  He'd just process them into the system, for the greater good of the state.

That's enough about wealth.

I was going to relate the rest of this week's posts to the subject, but I've changed my mind. Instead, there will be no Thursday post, but on Friday I'll introduce one of the new features I'll do off and on this fall: The Writing Game.

Then next week, we get to what I consider the most interesting part of the wealth and power posts: POWER and DOMINANCE!  I'll talk about classic characters -- like Sam Spade, Columbo and Zorro -- as well as my own characters.  The subject will be whether they are Alpha Dogs and how they manage to get their way in all sorts of situations.

See you in the funny papers.

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