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
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