The Interpersonal Economy

Building on how Stories Are the Study of Being, and combining it with The Very Heart of Fiction for this Workshop Wednesday, I present to you today the Interpersonal Economy.

It’s the idea that interpersonal relationships are like a marketplace where we trade value for value. And much like a marketplace, each individual holds a hierarchy of values that determine whether or not they do business with another. In a way, we are businesses in and of ourselves, and everyone else we interact with are like customers who we want to sell ourselves to.

And I’m not even talking about mere monetary gain where you buy some Pokemon cards off each other or whatever. I’m talking more about selling our ideas and values to others in order to see if we want to do business together. This can range from shared values like the appreciation of art, literature, or any other hobby you can think of. Going even deeper than that, we also want to trade value through the exchange of ideas. Ideas on how one should conduct their lives, their relationships, and contribute to society.

All of these things are values that we measure within our own lives and seek to find those who may either share our values or help improve them through civil discourse. I’m talking, of course, about conflict, which is another thing that is inevitable in the marketplace and in relationships.

Sometimes customers are not content with the service they get, and so the business has the responsibility to humbly receive criticism on how to improve how they serve their customers. That’s assuming that the business is at fault, though. Because on the flip side customers can sometimes mistreat a business due to a myriad of reasons. Maybe the customer is entitled and expects more than the business can actually provide, or maybe they hold a grudge for having been served poorly before.

Whatever the case may be conflict among humans are inevitable in the Interpersonal Economy.


Business Drama is Just Relationship Drama, but Fancier

If you’re planning to write a story with a memorable ensemble cast–or in the middle of it already–I would suggest creating a character web that shows how each character is connected to each other. You could do this with pen/pencil and paper or with a mind mapping program, but I personally prefer Scapple from Literature and Latte.

And no, I am not sponsored by them *wink wink, nudge nudge.* I just really love the writing programs they’ve made, most notably Scrivener for having met so many of my writing needs for many years now. But back to the post!

Creating a Mind Map of how your characters interconnect with each other and detailing what the cost/benefit analysis of their relationships will help you write more meaningful dialogue and plot points. When you know exactly how your characters benefit from each other and what their conflicts cost each other, it will make for deeper and more exciting drama.

What makes human relationships so interesting is how we can get under each other’s skin, yet somehow muster all the forgiveness in the world to keep certain individuals in our lives. For better or for worse. These are things that are hard to measure because several costs might be made up for in one big benefit. Or vice versa. One big cost can tarnish an otherwise seemingly beneficial relationship.

For example you might have a friend who you can air out your frustrations to and they’ll do the same for you, but other than that, you don’t offer each other much else other than free and half baked therapy for each other. There’s no fun in the relationship and there might not even be growth from the sharing of problems, rather the exacerbation of them.

This kind of cost/benefit analysis would be the cornerstone of conflict because people have very unique and individual goals and motivations that drive them, and more often than that, a conflict of interest arises when we have counter values from each other. If not similar values that are approached with methodologies different from our own.


Designing Your Interpersonal Economy

Taking a deeper look, here is an example of what an Interpersonal Economy mind map could look like, drawing straight from my 5th draft of It Starts at Home (which has evolved into a whole other monster and deserving of a new title since I last mentioned it here at Your Write to Live).

The new premise for “It Starts at Home” is that there are four juniors in high school who want to become professional gamers who want to win 1st in the international Atlantis Assault tournament.

Atlantis Assault is a 4v4, team based, first person shooter that is all the craze in the universe of my story. Each of these teens are equipped with their own anxieties about their futures after high school.

Pressured by their parents to succeed academically, and the one thing that brings hope and sparks joy in the lives of these teens is not only playing Atlantis Assault together, but the kind of friendships that develop between them in and out of the game. Both as individuals and as a group.

Each character is designated a specific color, so whenever that color pops up in another character’s web of influence, it’s detailing a cost or benefit of their relationship with each other. Some costs and benefits are recurring and that points to how that one person has the same effect on different people.

You will notice that some of these are tagged with either a + or – and occasionally a +/-. That is describing whether or not the effect one character has another is positive or negative, or maybe even both as a lot of trades of value in relationships end up being double edged swords like any other good cost/benefit analysis could give insight to.


Your Interpersonal Economy and You

Your Write to Live has always been about providing fiction writing tips that could also apply to your real life if you pursue self knowledge and personal development. It is my belief that fiction writing (and reading for that matter) is our way of understanding ourselves and the world better. It’s through these larger than life characters we draw inspiration from to become better people who act in good faith in the world.

So with that said, I encourage you to create Interpersonal Economy mind maps for both your fictional and real life ensembles. For your work of fiction, it will help you heighten the drama by creating well crafted characters with nuanced relationships. For your real life, it could give you a better understanding of how valuable your relationships are and where they might need some work.

After all, stories are fundamentally the expression of human relationship, and it’s through them we come to understand our place in the world

Did you find this post helpful?

Do you have any thoughts and criticisms about the Interpersonal Economy?

Is this the kind of content you would like to see more of here at Your Write to Live?

Leave a comment below and let me know!

Making the Mundane Memorable

Readers can gain insight on who your characters are based on how they tackle everyday chores like washing the dishes or doing their laundry. It sounds boring on its own, but with what I’m about to share with you can either be a fun exercise you keep to yourself to get a sense of your characters, or let it become a full scene in your story that provides that insight for your readers.

Some of the most common writing advice writers are given is to leave out the minutiae of everyday life in their stories. Now while I do think it makes logical sense, because you want to get to the meaty dramatic parts of a story that much sooner to keep readers engaged, I think adding a little bit of mundane everyday life can actually enrich the experience. After all;

“How you do anything is how you do everything.” – Harve Eker.

Readers can gain insight on who your characters are based on how they tackle everyday chores like washing the dishes or doing their laundry. It sounds boring on its own, but with what I’m about to share with you can either be a fun exercise you keep to yourself to get a sense of your characters, or let it become a full scene in your story that provides that insight for your readers.

The Meaningfully Mundane

So what am I talking about? How can one possibly make the mundane memorable? How do you even start?

You start by understanding your character’s temperament and how well or how poorly they take on the boring chores of everyday life. Do they brush their teeth only enough to get the taste of morning breath out of their mouth, or do they meticulously brush every single tooth from every nook and cranny? Do they hop in the shower for less than a minute or do they make it a meditative practice of feeling the warmth of the water wash them of their worries of the day?

What you want to do is invoke your character’s personality in how they take on these everyday tasks. Depending on what point you’re at in the plot and what has happened so far, how they take on daily tasks can also become part of the symbology of your story. That is of course, if you want that particular task to be repeated more than once in the story to symbolize your character’s state of mind.

Therapeutic Routines

Let’s take for example a therapist named Linus. He is everything you’d expect from a therapist; someone who has his life together who helps others get their lives together as well. He starts the story off with having healthy hearty breakfasts in the morning, listening attentively to his patients at work, and then coming home to relax by keeping the place tidy and habitable.

But then somewhere down the line, he is confronted by hardship. Linus is given a client named Damon that is so down in the dumps and desperate that despite Linus’ years of experience, he can’t seem to help Damon open up about his life or take any positive action to improve it. Linus prides himself on being an effective therapist, but that pride holds no weight now because he begins to feel like a failure due to not being able to help this downtrodden man.

Now Linus is rattled about himself and all his years spent studying psychology in university. His goal was to help people, but he feels insecure about his capacity to do so. He is lost and mere routine is no longer enough to keep himself stable and capable of being the therapist he knows how to be.

Taking a second look at his daily routine further in the story, it would then devolve compared to how mindfully and meaningfully he once approached it. Instead of taking the time to fry up some eggs and bacon, toast some bread, and brew himself a mug of coffee, he starts settling for a granola bar and drinking an entire pot of coffee to force himself to get through the day.

He goes to work barely listening to any of his patients because he’s obsessed with how and why he can’t help Damon, and he barely has the energy and motivation to keep his place tidy when he gets home from work. A once spotless kitchen now sports unwashed dishes, trash bags that have yet to be taken out, and a dining table cluttered with unopened mail.

For Linus, taking care of his home and his patients was his own personal therapy. It’s what gave him a sense of purpose and joy in his life, but it has been disrupted by one challenging patient he can’t seem to help. Maintaining his home routine and doing well at work go hand in hand, one affecting the other. Maybe now what he needs is a break in his routine and actual therapy himself from a trusted mentor.

Whatever the case may be, how he approaches mundane tasks like preparing breakfast and tidying his home have changed because his mental state and life circumstance has changed as well.

Micro and Macro Triumph

In my example story about Linus the Therapist, he starts off with a solid routine that he falls off from when he’s confronted with conflict at work. It is through self reflection and growth that he must return to wholeness by disciplining himself to take care of himself and his home in order to become an effective therapist again.

Being able to help Damon with his personal life and his daily routines would be the macro triumph and that would be symbolized further with the micro triumph of both men cleaning up their homes and their selves in order to act properly in the world, which would be the macro triumph.

Each man doing tiny things in their private lives would greatly impact how they present themselves to the world and operate in it because the way they handle their micro responsibilities greatly affects how they tackle their macro challenges in life.


Give Your Characters Meaningful Mundane Routines

Now obviously you don’t want to bore your readers with excess detail on mundane day to day tasks, but choosing a particular daily routine for your character to symbolize their current state of mind in the story is a sure fire way to making the mundane meaningful, as well as flesh out the plot and characters further.

What I’ve described in this hypothetical story about Linus the Therapist was very bare bones and basic for the sake of simplicity, but for your own work, it could be much more complex than breakfast, work, and keeping a tidy home. The goal would be to emphasize in enough detail how one can approach a daily routine with their heart and soul when things are going well in their lives and then neglecting that kind of discipline later on in the story because of the challenges they face, only to return back to order or something better when they’ve overcome their personal struggles.

Or even have your character start off in a state of absolute chaos and disorder either in how they maintain their homes or selves. Grooming could be a good one too where you have an unkept character not brushing their hair, barely showering on a regular basis, and wearing dirty clothing. Consider a man who wants to find the love of his life, but is constantly rejected because despite his efforts to pick up women because he’s not well groomed and all it would take is basic grooming and self care to begin appearing attractive to not only women, but also friends, family, and potential employers.

Whichever way you slice it, there is more to mundane everyday life than often noted if you take in account how much our daily routines actually affect how we appear and operate in the world.

What are some mundane daily tasks you take pride in excelling at?

Are you a great cook? Do you have a pristine home? How about a well disciplined workout routine?

Whatever you’ve got going for you, let me know if this helps you consider the importance of mundane daily routines in your life and/or the fictional characters you are writing about!

Movie Montage Motivation

Training montages are a staple for underdog movies like Rocky, which features one of the most epic montages of all time. It’s so epic that I presume it’s the film that popularized training montages in the first place. When Eye of the Tiger queues up and we see Rocky training for his title bout against Apollo Creed, we can’t help but feel hyped up for him because of all the hard work he’s putting into preparation.

Today’s post is all about those long grueling hours of preparation that we put into a moment of time that has a much shorter duration than the actual training itself. And that’s the interesting part about training montages in movies. They condense a huge passage of time into just a couple minutes for however long the hype up song will play for, but when it comes to the main event, that scene is what gets drawn out and dramatized.

Unfortunately, real life works the opposite. UFC fighters can train for months on end only to be KO’d under a minute in the first round. Or even if they do go the distance in a championship match, the 25 minutes they spend fighting in the octagon still does not compare to the endless of hours, weeks, and months of training.

In a montage, all that quick cutting between training activities is super exciting, but if you watch all that in real time without the hype up music backing it up, you would probably get bored real fast. After all, no one has time to spend months in the movie theater watching Rocky jog around Philadelphia for an hour and then go punch a speedbag and some frozen meat, and get punched himself, for several more hours.

So while montages may gloss over all that extensive training time for the sake of retaining viewer retention, you as a person working toward a goal, must actually retain your motivation toward training in whatever field you’re attempting to master. It’s not as fun and exciting as having all your training time summed up in 3 minutes to a hype track, but that’s what makes it even more important.

Real life training is long, hard, and messy.

Motivation can only last so long before resistance and discipline begin to rear their ugly heads. When natural motivation begins to wane, the doubts start pouring in, making you think twice about whether or not you’re on the right track. You hit plateaus in your capacity to learn and retain new things, you mess up on things you thought you’ve mastered, and worst of all, you might even experience imposter syndrome where you can’t even believe you can achieve such great things.

In these times of struggle it is important to take stock when you get stuck. My examples so far have been bleak, considering how Rocky actually ends, along with what I said about a UFC fighter getting KO’d in the first round. To turn things around, I want to posit that even if you “lose” despite of all your training, it really does come down to that cliché where life is all about the journey, not the destination.

Even if you try and fail, at least you’ve developed the discipline to strive for what you want. And while a lot of hard work and persistence may not amount to much in the end result, at least in the final analysis you’ve put your best foot forward and built your life brick by boring brick.

Everybody wants to get on stage and sing their song, but not many people out there are willing to take music lessons, lug their gear around, and commit to endless hours of rehearsals and soundchecks. By dedicating yourself to your craft every day, you are already ahead of the curve. Better yet, removing the unproductive concept of comparing ourselves to others, we are already becoming better than our past selves when we make the decision to develop our skills.

On the brighter side, while I can’t guarantee you succeed in achieving your goals if you dedicate yourself everyday, I can at least say that you are increasing your chances of success tenfold by simply putting the work in. In fact, I’d even argue that the end goal should not be the goal. Rather, the goal should be whatever you have ahead of you for that day in particular.

So say you’re a writer like me and you want to write and publish a novel. It’s a daunting task to say the least, but the thing about goals is that they comprise of a subset of mini goals that lead toward it. While the end goal is to have a novel published, the daily goal could and should be something along the lines of 500-2000 words a day, or whatever amount you’re most comfortable with.

Make the montage, the training, the goal itself. Approach it with all the enthusiasm you can at the beginning, but don’t let the initial loss of motivation stop you because then that’s when you’re being tested as to how well you can adapt these activities into routine habits that you just do as part of your daily life.

Simply put; success is a lifestyle, not an end goal.

How to Create Instantly Likeable Characters

One of the best writing guides I’ve read and studied from lately is The Emotional Craft of Fiction by Donald Mass. It has some incredible insights on not just how to craft the emotional landscape of your work of fiction, but also a handful of other insights on how to get in touch with your own emotional world to better inform the characters you create. After all, the characters we create in one shape or form are extensions of ourselves all of which who yearn to be understood and expressed with the respect they deserve.

Crafting characters, as you know, is one of my favourite aspects of writing because without people there are no stories. It is through the characters that we get to relate to in navigating the human experience, and that’s why it’s important to make them as true to life as possible, no matter what the setting is or whatever other lifeform they take that isn’t exactly human.

For many years I’ve had pre-conceptions of what makes relatable and likeable characters, and unfortunately a lot of those pre-conceptions were at a very shallow, if not obvious, layer of the human spirit. Make your characters flawed like real people. Take traits from people you know and blend them together. Oh and let’s not forget; give them goals, motivation, and conflict like every other human being has.

And while these are all important aspects of what create multi-dimensional characters, I am here to introduce something that I’ve missed over the years!


Virtue as the Cornerstone of Love

We live in a world where gritty anti-heroes are starting to take centre stage, villains are becoming more sympathizable, and we have overall entered into an era in which there’s a strange embracing of the darkness. And yes of course this all important to our evolution in not only our tastes in fiction, but also our human progression, but one thing that hasn’t had much spotlight on lately is virtue.

An act of kindness goes a long way.

They seem insignificant in the moment, but a bunch of tiny acts of kindness add up.

And in the end, it all makes for a better world to live in if we could all just give each other a helping in whatever way we can.

Whenever we see someone or hear about someone doing a good thing for someone else, it makes us feel good by extension. That’s because we’re social empathetic creatures. We end up feeling the good nature of the giver who gave a helping hand to someone who needed it and we feel the gratitude of the person in need. Throughout our lives we fluxuate between being people who are capable of giving to the less fortunate, and being in unfortunate situations ourselves in need of the generousity of others.

Whether it’s from a stranger or a close loved one, we can’t help but feel a sense of euphoria from an act of kindness we either give to or receive from others. This can range from simple things like dropping a few coins in the shaking can of a homeless person on the street to something more personal and expansive like lending an empathic ear to a friend who has a problem to deal with. Nothing feels better than a win-win situation where we don’t have to lose something of value, whether it was a long awaited desire or a piece of our conscience.

Whatever way you choose to create your characters, it’s imperative that you give them an act of virtue that makes your reader develop a natural admiration for them. Even if you choose to create an anti-hero character who is resistant to their responsibility of greatness, we want to see at least a glimpse of goodness in them because it’s the potential that we want to root for so it can come into fruition later on in the story.

Saving a Cat Moment

In Emotional Craft of Fiction, Donald writes about how a simple saving a cat moment can make a protagonist instantly likeable, especially if you include it early on in the story. This gets us to admire the goodness in thecharacter and in turn remind us of the goodness in ourselves–and to take it even further it allows us to see the potential in ourselves to become even better human beings.

So what does a Saving a Cat Moment look like?

It can literally be saving a cat that’s stuck in a tall tree.

Or it can be something more subtle or even more grand than that!

Here are some rapid fire examples from my own stories and other stories I’ve enjoyed over the years. None of them will be ultra specific as to boil down the core principles of the acts themselves.

How to Save a Cat in Several Ways

  • Stepping in when someone is being bullied
  • Mentoring an eager apprentice in a specific skill or vocational path
  • Comforting someone in grief
  • Equipping someone with an important life lesson
  • Providing someone with a sense of purpose
  • Volunteering at an old folks’ home or a homeless shelter
  • Helping the disabled get around town
  • Saving a suicide victim moments before they execute their plan
  • Saving a child from an abusive home situation
  • A parent bonding deeply with their child
  • A spouse bonding deeply with their partner
  • Admitting to fault and asking for forgiveness

The list can go on forever. There’re definitely an infinite amount of other examples I could have put and some that you are starting to think of right now, in which case feel free to share in the comments below!

The point is that whatever good deed your characters perform, they need to come from an earnest and authentic place, even if they have resistance toward it at the beginning. It might be a hard sell if the character performs the deed for admiration and ego gratification as opposed from the goodness of their heart. But you can even make it so that it can start off as an ego boost that eventually touches the character in a deep and moving way where it inspires them to seek even more virtue.

So there you have it, one of the best ways to make instantly likeable characters. It may be obvious to others, but this fell under my radar for a very long time having been so obsessed with the more technical aspect of writing over the years. Sometimes we all need to get back to the basics and remember what we all (hopefully) learned in kindergarten: be kind and share your toys with other kids.

Now I’d like to hear from you, the reader!

What are some other good deeds can we add to the list? What good deeds have you writte your characters to perform in your stories? What acts of kindness from fiction and reality have inspired you?

And as always, if you have any feedback on my writing tips feel free to comment down below. Did I miss something? Should I elaborate more or less? Even feel free to tell me if it was completely useless information, in which you are welcome to give me your two cents on how I can improve Your Write to Live!

Truncated Trifecta of Tribulations

A few weeks ago I shared my life long experiences with depression, as well as the resulting lessons I learned in dealing with a recent depression spell I suffered under.

The original posts cut deep and it only made sense to transcend my usual desire to keep articles under 1000 words for concise and bite sized comsupmion. Now while I do urge you to check out the full Trifecta of Tribulations series, I decided to see if I can put these lessons into their simplest form possible.

My personal story as to how I came to these Top 3 Lessons help flesh them all out more, but for a quick and bite sized experience, here they are in their most concise form:

1. Share to Shed Your Shadow Side

We all have dark parts lingering within us. Parts of us, for better or for worse, that sometimes urge us to behave in ways that go against our values. Instead of trying to suppress these dark thoughts–only to make them boil up and burn you over worse in the future–trying sharing them with people you trust.

Maybe you have a life coach or therapist, family members you’re close with, and/or some very trustworthy friends. Whoever you have in your life who won’t judge you or ostracize you for voicing your vulnerabilities, feel free to share your shadow side with them. Make it clear that these dark thoughts you have are just that; thoughts. You may be afraid that they end up fearing you, but if they are trustworthy people, they’ll end up understanding you better.

There’s always that horrible thing you want to do to someone who has wronged you in the past, or that vicious verbal assault you know you can unleash on someone who you think “deserves it.” Unless you actually act these things out, don’t feel ashamed of yourself, just notice it’s there and pay attention to what’s driving it. You can usually then find more healthy ways to express your frustrations with the people you find yourself in conflict with.

2. The 60:40 Principle

Optimism is a helpful tool in keeping yourself hopeful and excited to live in the world. It’s a mindset required in order to achieve the things we want and connect with the people we want to connect with. However, an excess of it can make you naive and susceptible for possible abuse and maniuplation. Not to mention, the higher your set your hopes, the harder the fall if things don’t go as planned.

So what’s the solution? Pessimism?

Well, Pessimism is a little more “realistic” after all, and is so much easier to convince yourself of. Yes, life is unfair, it’s full of suffering, and we might not get everything we want before we die. This much is indeed true, but if Pessimism is taken on as a primary mindset in which to live with, it can be quite dibilitating. We’re only human and it’s only natural for us to need things and need other people to survive, but too much Pessimism can cause you to suffer needlessly, and it makes little to no sense to inflict any more suffering on yourself that life is bound to give you anyway.

Life is about balance between the two mindsets. Always try to operate from 60:40 Optimism over Pessimism, or 60:40 Pesssimism over Optimism. Why not 50:50? Because you’ll logically and usually be feeling one mindset stronger than the other, depending on how your life is going. The trick is to not turn it into 70:30 of either mindset over the other. Hope and dream, but be cautious so that you’re not too attached to a certain outcome. Feel your negative emotions and experiences, but remain hopeful life can get better.

3. You Create Your Own Reality

Now while it’s obvious you can’t delude yourself into thinking everything is fine when your family is at war with each other, your friends are ditching you, and your job is sucking your soul dry–despite of what you’re experiencing in life, it’s still your responsibility to handle it in the best way that gives you the least amount of uneccessary suffering.

Taking The 60:40 Principle in account, you must ask yourself, “if my life is Hell right now, what did I do to make it this way?” And if you find that an undesirable circumstance is, indeed, your fault, don’t fall into the temptation of beating yourself up over it. Ask yourself then, “what can I do to make it better?” And, “how can I make sure I don’t suffer any more than I have to?”

Unless your brain chemistry is misaligned beyond repair by a serious disease that makes it visible, chances are that you actually have more control over your mind than you think. Over time, it just gets easier to buy into everything our mind tells us. Most of the thoughts we have are uncontrollable and we had little to no choice in getting them stuck in our heads due to our unique set of environments and childhoods. So relcaim your mind and remembering the silent observer that is merely aware of such thoughts, and become its ally, so that in turn, your mind can be yours once again.