Pleading Poverty: An Easy Way to Motivate Characters

Posted: March 26, 2015 in writing
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5659908590_a2fb90dfc0_zGoing to see Little Shop of Horrors, it struck me was that the play uses one of the all time classic character motivations – poverty.

Skid Row Survivors

Most of the characters in Little Shop of Horrors are poor people living in a poor neighbourhood. While this isn’t the only thing motivating Seymour, the story’s protagonist, it’s an important one. It drives him to seek fame and fortune when the opportunity arises, even at a terrible cost.

It’s also the motive for many other characters in stories, from Harry Dresden’s ongoing struggle to pay his bills through to Oliver Twist’s need just to get fed.

Because of Necessity, Dumby

The reason this happens so often is obvious once you think about it. Poverty prevents us from attending to even our most basic needs – food, shelter, warmth. A poor character can be motivated to all sorts of actions to survive. A poor character with principles can easily be given internal conflict, as the needs of survival clash with those principles. Just look at Seymour, forced to take increasingly grisly steps to retain the monstrous Audrey Two and his ticket out of the slums.

Poverty drives conflict, for characters at least.

Sure, it’s an easy option, but it’s one that works. By definition, half the population has less wealth than average, and there are always people struggling to survive. Just because all these characters are driven by poverty doesn’t mean that their lives and struggles will be the same.

Penny for the Writer?

If you want to help a struggling writer avoid poverty at no cost to yourself, please go download a copy of my science fiction collection Lies We Will Tell Ourselves, free on the Kindle until the end of tomorrow. Those free downloads will help to raise the book’s profile on Amazon, even more so if you leave a rating once you’ve read the book, and will make me money in the long run. Keep an eye out in there for ‘Day Labour’, another story of poverty and carnivorous plants, though a very different one from Little Shop of Horrors.

Picture by Aaron Patterson via Flickr Creative Commons.

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