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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Population Size, Money, and What They Have to Do With Culture

Money can't buy happiness. Or class for that matter.

In fact, trade used to be a dirty word. So why is money something you need to worry about when you're building a fictional culture? And what does the population size have to do with anything?

When it comes to expansion and colonization of new worlds in a science fiction work money is everything. Money is what decides this planet here is getting colonized and this one isn't. Money decides whether this space station is fixed or scrapped.

Jack Campbell used this theme in his Lost Fleet series. Various planets and space stations had been abandoned, some with people still living there, because they were no longer cost efficient. The accountants bottom line became a hurdle the main characters had to overcome.

Money and Culture

1. Where does the money come from? For every society you create you need to know where there cash flow comes from. Do they have a tourist industry? Do they export something important? Are they dependent on another planet or culture for survival?

How does that affect your character? Can you make a plot point out of this? If not, no worries, it's good for you to know anyways.

2. Who controls the money? Usually the people in power are the ones who control, produce, and distribute the money at the basic level. So who is in charge of your civilization?

3. How many people have this money? This is where population size comes in, the more people you have the more money your ideal society should have. Change the equilibrium and you have a world ripe for chaos, poverty, and other financially based woes. Always a fun backdrop for your novel. :o)

4. If you don't have money what do you use to maintain trade? Not all cultures use money. Some are basic trade societies where one egg gets you a half-cup of milk. Others are like the city of Agora in The Midnight Charter where a piece of your soul might pay part of your rent. All the dark and chilling possibilities of what you could use instead of cash or credit make for a wonderful list of plot twists.

After all, the MC's annoying neighbor doesn't need her spleen *that*much, does she?

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