This subject was brought up in the forums I help moderate. In this thread, the economy of a story was discussed in depth. One member in particular, Victor N, brought up an excellent point: the economy of your story can play a role in the plot. Definitely read the link above because he provides excellent examples. Below I’ll discuss my own thoughts on this subject and give my own examples.
When you craft your world, you will need to consider the resources your people have access to and the abundance of these resources. How abundant they are can play a role in the conflict you create for your story. For example, if your world has a plethora of resources dedicated to travel, where finding a way to travel someplace is easy, convenient, and inexpensive, don’t build a plot around the inability to travel. Your economy setting won’t match your plot.
For example, the protagonist suddenly reaches the spaceport, and none of the spaceships work, or they are all gone, or they fail to start. Or if the protagonist tries to use the teleporter and it fails to work on every ship and facility they reach. Every time you need a twist like that to evoke conflict in this travel abundant world, your plot will start to feel contrived. If there is an abundance in travel facilities, then why would they all fail at the same time? That type of plot won’t work in that setting. You need a very, very good reason for this conflict to work, and the only way to pull it off is if the failure of resources requires a lot of time and effort to repair (or find again). They can’t just magically work again at the end of the book, otherwise the reader will feel cheated.
You’ll have to consider this when you draft your conflicts for your stories. It may be helpful to list all the resources that may influence your characters and your plot. This may include travel, communications, financial resources, building resources, food, water, electricity, power plants (or some other way of producing power for any electronic devices), environmental resources, people (for wars or construction or various jobs in your city), and so on.
Let’s say you have a town with a small population. It wouldn’t make sense for this town to have a large army with a never-ending supply of soldiers, especially if they are cast as the antagonist in your plot. Where are all these people coming from? The economy of that town doesn’t fit the plot and you’ll end up breaking your story.
How about this scenario: One of your countries wages war and is defeated. Most of their soldiers are gone, most of their towns razed, and their food and water supply heavily depleted or ruined. The occupying force leaves behind a few guards, but they have little resources to keep the order. This is a low resource setting, so having your protagonist suddenly rebuild the castle over the course of a few weeks is a bit unbelievable. How do they find the manpower or even the building resources to pull this off? If they have little to no resources starting out, how can they build up those resources in order to achieve their goals? That could be a crucial part of your story. But if you just jump over it and have them suddenly return to full strength in a short amount of time, your story will look contrived and unbelievable. After a defeat that bad, it can take several generations before that country may rebuild enough to exert any degree of strength. Part of that is because they just lack manpower to build up the cities and town, to extract the materials needed from the environment, to produce the food and clean the water, to rebuild their infrastructure. Where does that manpower come from? Either from immigrants, which could be rare — there may be more people fleeing it than returning to it — or more commonly from births. These could all influence your story if you use this type of setting.
Let’s say your story is about a crew on a spaceship. How large is this spaceship? The amount of room you have is a resource that may need to consider. Is there a way for them to produce their own food and water? If not, how do they survive? You can’t have them travel for years and have no way of producing their own food, especially if they don’t have any stops to resupply. This will leave a gaping hole in your story. Also, you can’t have the spaceship hold a huge amount of food and water to cover those years of travel because the more weight that spaceship has, the harder it is to get up to speed in order to even reach any destination. Also, spacecraft often needs to carry their own fuel, which will add to its weight. How does their propulsion drive work? Is it using fuel that requires a lot of it for the drive to work? Or can you use a small amount of fuel and go for years on it? Either scenario could influence the plot and characters depending on the type of story you write.
There’s also the expense of getting the resources into that ship in the first place. If it comes from the surface of a planet, the cost of sending supplies to orbit can be highly expensive and depends on the resources of countries on that planet. Does that planet even have the infrastructure to resupply their space docks on a regular basis? Also, does your crew have the financial resources to resupply all their needs? Would it be more cost efficient to simply create a hydroponics room where they grow their own food, and create a recycling system where all water is constantly recycled for use in bathing and drinking? Also, if there is any accidents or failures on the part of equipment — do they have the resources to repair this? Everything on that spaceship will undoubtedly be a finite resource. All of these questions could be a potential source for conflict depending upon your answers.
However, what if you introduce a device such as a replicator that gives them everything they need and requires little to no supplies to keep it working? Then you’ll have a hard sell to introduce a conflict where they “run out of resources.” If the replicator can always fix that, why would that conflict even exist? Unless the replicator stopped working, then that conflict could work, but you’d have to show the difficulty they face in repairing it. It can’t just randomly stop working to serve a plot point, and then later in the story start working again without any explanation. That just looks contrived and your reader will trust you less or you could lose your reader altogether.
You also don’t want to go overboard trying to explain all the resources and how they work in your world. Some of this may not be necessary for the story you have in mind, and if it is necessary, then you should incorporate it into the descriptions, dialogue, and character’s actions throughout the book. It’s always a fine balance. The role these resources play can either help you create good and interesting conflicts, or they can undermine and break your conflicts, depending upon their influence on the story as a whole.
Consider the following questions: Does the resource directly influence your character and the plot? If it does, you may need to address it as you write your story. If the resource doesn’t have much influence, then you may be able to safely overlook it, or just provide a one sentence description dismissing why it doesn’t have influence.
However, it can be a challenge to determine what does influence your plot and character. Sometimes you may not realize it until after you finished your first draft. It may be helpful to write your story, and then go through and make a list of your resources. Mark off the ones that have little influence on the character or the plot, and those that do heavily influence it, map out how abundant (or scarce) that resource is in your world. Then examine how your characters dealt with that issue. This can be useful in teasing out holes in your plot.
The economy of your setting can and often does play a significant role in your plot and characters’ actions. Don’t overlook it, and be sure to explore its limits as you write. It’ll help you create a more tightly knit story, close any plot holes, and make your story feel more authentic and real to the reader.
Great post! It is good to remember that even if you are writing fantasy or science fiction, you still have to ground it in reality, in order for it to be believable. The answer to everything can’t be just, “Because…magic.” 🙂
Thanks! And yes, exactly. It always drove me nuts as a reader to find out the answer to a conflict was akin to the whole “because… magic.” I bet there’s a trope name for that too. What got me is that they never seemed to use it again. Why not? What’s stopping them? In those kinds of stories, that question is never addressed. TV shows are notorious for doing this.
Making it look real by grounding it in reality is what makes a story good for me. If the people and situations are believable and especially if the characters are such that I care about what happens to them, makes me want to finish the story. And as anyone who knows me, I am an avid reader.