Switching Gears

If it is hard for a rich man to get into heaven, an author may want to reconsider how to position a rich character. The salience the biblical quote possesses stems from a very basic human tendency. Most of us dislike rich people. In America, that envy has been twisted into a perverted form of hero worship, but even here workers resent those who wear alligator shirts. 

The same feeling extends to fiction, unless the genre is clearly the perils of the rich and famous. As readers we can sympathize with a rich character who is troubled, but if we know all along they can buy their way out of misery, some of the edge is taken off. The general sentiment might be summed up as: you got problems I wish I had.

While not every fictional situation can be converted to a version of Dickens, you can adjust the motivations of a character. A nouveau riche who buys a mansion with a high mortgage is different from a rich cat who buys it as a winter home. If a high-flying job ends abruptly, hopefully unfairly, we can enjoy watching someone as they plummet. A marriage can be wrecked, a family can split apart—that sort of predicament is fun to read about. You thought you were a fat cat, but you’re just a palooka like the rest of us.

Revised positioning affects relationships in the novel as well. If your best friend is Alistair, who is positive that Groton is simply better, a reader may feel excluded from the camaraderie. Bermuda? Well, I went to . . . If the best friend is Eddie, who has never stopped smoking too much dope, now the clubhouse is big enough to embrace us. The contrast between what the lead character was and is now can provide a wide variety of tension points as well as comedy. 

Better yet, you can use the contrast by making a rich person the antagonist. The hero may have to hobnob with snooty jerks, but when one of them demonstrates pure evil, the reader roots harder for the hero. We all know what money is the root of. That brand of enemy also can possess unlimited resources to thwart the protagonist, making the obstacles more difficult. You have also, by this device, aligned your lead with all of us hoi polloi.

Exercise: Falling from grace is a fate that everyone dreads. As such, it is an unsteady board that you can employ from page 1 onward. Amid the trappings of wealth you can plant seeds that alert the reader that doom is gathering to strike. Yes, splendid Porsche, but how soon will it be repossessed? Yes, knockout spouse, but how flimsy is the foundation of the partnership?

“When the rich wage war, it's the poor who die.” —Jean-Paul Sartre

Copyright @ 2021 John Paine. All rights reserved. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.