[LNH] The Stomper Files #7 - "The Poverty Plot"

Dave Van Domelen dvandom at haven.eyrie.org
Tue Aug 28 15:58:43 PDT 2007

                 From the Files of Doctor Stomper #7
                         The Poverty Plot
                  copyright 2007 by Dave Van Domelen


          A review of the metaeconomic theory that leads to
     temporary bouts of impoverishment in individuals and groups
     that should otherwise be effectively immune to such 
     financial difficulties.


     Any student of net.ahuman history is familiar with the Net.astic Nine,
founded and led by Fred Franklins, also known as Mr. Thingy.  Doctor
Franklins invented Thingy technology, the basis for such LNH equipment as
flight.thingies and com.thingies.  He founded the Net.astic Nine as a
corporation, funded by the profits from his many commercially viable
inventions and with a roster full of individuals of diverse and exceptional
talents and net.ahuman abilities.  Doctor Franklins did all the right things
in setting up Net.astic Nine, Incorporated, and while one could certainly
expect certain reversals of fortune, at the very least none of the members
should ever have had to worry about where their next meal was coming from.
They might lose access to their amazing equipment, get kicked out of the
Mando Building or even find themselves temporarily out of work, but the
Franklins fortune itself was shielded from liability by the nature of
corporate law, and in a pinch Mr. Thingy could just let everyone live with
him in Load Island until he cranked out another million dollar invention and
the team got back on its feet.
     But, as history shows, that was not the case.
     On no fewer than twenty occasions, the Net.astic Nine found itself not
only bankrupt, but also destitute.  On three of those occasions, they
employed their special talents to earn money until the crisis was resolved,
on five they participated in various races or contests and used the prize
money to get the team back on its feet, but in all of the remaining cases,
they were reduced to menial labor and other unskilled work.
     How could this happen at all, much less a dozen or more times?
Especially since every time it did happen, Doctor Franklins took steps to
further ensure his team's financial stability?  The occasional theft or
records tampering is to be expected when one's enemies include supergenius
sociopaths, but twenty times?  And the Net.astic Nine are far from the only
victims of these circumstances.  The Undefinable Irony Man has been rendered
homeless at least seven times, despite always having quarters at the LNHQ he
could rely on, for instance.
     The answer lies not in any rational field of economics or finance, but
in the actions of the Writers.  Specificially, what has become known in
metaeconomics (that branch of metaphysics dealing with the activities of
notional or extradimensional beings on the economy) as The Poverty Plot.

The Poverty Plot Defined:

     The Poverty Plot occurs when a Writer decides that an otherwise well-to-
do person or group should lose all their money, or at least access to
resources, and be reduced to some sort of low-ranking employment simply to
make ends meet.  The victims must normally be quite capable of rapidly
rebuilding fortunes via their skills or net.ahuman abilities, and be somehow
prevented from doing so by means of a Plot Device of some sort, or simply Bad
Writing (1).  The Poverty Plot rarely lasts for long, and is resolved either
by the removal of the Plot Device, or by the acquisition of a counter-
balancing Plot Device (either mundane such as the prize for winning a
contest, or extraordinary such as finding a rare artifact worth millions of
dollars).  Once The Poverty Plot has passed, the status quo rapidly returns.
But no matter what precautions the victims take once back on their feet, they
are no more or less likely to suffer from The Poverty Plot again in the
     It should be noted that The Poverty Plot should be distinguished from
The Poverty Condition.  The latter ensures that the victim's status quo is to
be impoverished regardless of any efforts to improve their lot or net.ahuman
abilities that should be usable to alleviate financial difficulties.  The
Poverty Condition is related to The Poverty Plot in its origins and certain
characteristics, but generally violates common sense less frequently and in
smaller ways.
     The Poverty Plot should also not be confused with situations in which
the subject finds themself on the run from the law.  Legal difficulties can
also lead to temporary and easily reversed financial troubles, but without
defying logic.  For instance, when Fred Franklins was suspected of murdering
a scientific rival, his assets were frozen and he was unable to even get any
sort of well-paying job while on the run.

     In short, when a rich person becomes poor for no logical reason, but
only for a short time, it's almost definitely The Poverty Plot in action.

Causes of The Poverty Plot:

     The root cause is, of course, Writers.  Those cosmic entities that shape
the lives of those of us who live in certain classes of reality (the so-
called "ficitonal realms" or "storyworlds") delight in causing conflict and
strife.  Inflicting The Poverty Plot on someone might give them the same sort
of pleasure a particularly cruel child would derive from taking a toy away
from a younger sibling.
     But even when the motive is not overt cruelty, it often reflects some
weakness of skill or character on the part of the Writer in question.  The
primary motives can be broken into four classes: cruelty as mentioned
already, motivation, conflict generation and reader identification.

     "Motivation" - If a Poverty Plot is resolved via the acquisition of some
Plot Device, or success at some arbitrary task, it is likely that the Writer
is using it as a prod to get the victims to participate in some sort of quest
or competition.  For instance, while it's trivially easy to interest the
Walking Argument in a debating contest, getting the entire Net.astic Nine
involved requires an external goad.  And thus, when the Net.astic Nine
participated in the Great Net.verian Debate and won the prize of five million
dollars that let them emergee from bankrupcy, you can be reasonably certain
that a Writer took away all their money specifically so that when they heard
about the GND they would be motivated to participate.  Similarly, when Irony
Man participated in an alien beauty pageant in order to use the prize money
to buy supplies to let him fix his Spaceflight.thingy, it was likely a
variant of the Poverty Plot.
     The Poverty Plot is a motivational bludgeon in these cases, forcing its
victims into actions that are out of character for them, rather than trying
to shape events or personalities more subtly and carefully over time to lead
to the same outcome in a more natural way.

     "Conflict Generation" - There are many ways to turn teammates against
one another, and The Poverty Plot can drive a wedge between members very
easily, especially if it looks like one or more of the members were to blame
for the loss of fortune.  Thus it was when it seemed that the Walking
Argument's and The Thingy's island resort venture had collapsed the finances
of the Net.astic Nine, the team temporarily broke up over the assignment of
     Again, as tools go, The Poverty Plot is pretty blatant when used simply
to create intra-team conflict.  For instance, the events surrounding the
infamous island resort could easily have led to the Net.astic Nine breaking
up without also rendering them implausibly poor, it just would have taken
longer and more effort on the part of the Writer.

     "Reader Identification" - It is not as well known that the Writers do
not meddle in our lives purely for their own enjoyment.  No, they also seek
to entertain others of their ilk, known as Readers.  And it is the insidious
goal of "reader identification" that gives us things like teenaged sidekicks,
slang dialogue that is a year or two out of date, and variations on The
Poverty Plot.  
     Writers often believe that Readers will be more interested if the
protagonists are somehow more like the Readers (hence teen sidekicks when a
Writer is aiming to interest younger Readers).  And this inevitably leads, in
the hands of a certain class of Writer, to the belief that Readers in
inglorious circumstances wish to see their heroes similarly reduced and
humbled.  That somewhere out there, Readers who performed their reality's
equivalent of flipping hamburgers would want to see The !Visible Woman in
hairnet and corporate polo shirt behind a cash register.
     Of course, this misses the point of the interdimensional flow of Drama,
in which Readers and Writers alike feed Drama into "fictional" realities in
exchange for being able to witness lives unlike their own.  Escapism on a
cosmic scale, if you will.  But how good is escapism if these paragons of
net.ahuman ability you read about are as incapable of avoiding minimum wage
jobs as you, the Reader, are?
     Thus, in the end, the situation becomes less believable and the
protagonist less worthy of being the focus of escapist fantasies, not more
"identifyable".  Certainly, a level of realism and conflict is necessary for
stories to generate Drama, but use of The Poverty Plot purely to increase the
similarity between Reader and read-about generally has more negative effects
than benefits.
     The earlier-mentioned Poverty Condition also generally arises from this
misguided goal of Writers.  Believing that Readers will be more interestd in
protagonist with problems "just like theirs", they instead create a situation
that reinforces the view that one's difficulties cannot be escaped.  After
all, if someone who can bend steel in their hands or read the backstory of
any object they touch can't use those abilities to make money, what chance
does a powerless (2) Reader have?


     Other than the usual, well-documented means of avoiding the attention of
Writers, there are no defenses against The Poverty Plot.  As it is a function
of the actions and whims of Writers, any countermeasures you may employ will
only improve your odds, not eliminate the risk.  After all, a writer lazy or
inexperienced enough to resort to The Poverty Plot in the first place
probably won't be stopped by (or even have noticed) something as flimsy as a
century of corporate case law precedent.
     Unfortunately, if you're a likely target, it's probably because Writers
find you inherently interesting, and hiding may not be an option.  In that
case, it may be best to adopt a sort of zen-like attitude towards the whole
thing.  After all, it's only temporary...your job sweeping floors may only
last long enough for a single montage before the Writer dangles the carrot in
front of your nose that will let you get out of financial difficulty.  Just
accept it as one of the prices of being one of the world's movers and


     In any reality where the Writers are able to shape events, a number of
things can cause someone to fall victim to the Poverty Plot.  Once in a
while, something positive comes of it, but usually it should just be
considered a filler story in life's great serial.  However, should it
persist, you may have been selected by a Writer for The Poverty Condition, in
which case, as Master Blaster might say, "Sucks to be you!" (3)


(1) Some theorists consider Bad Writing to simply be a subclass of Plot
     Device, albeit one that is invisible and intangible, not to mention very
     hard to counter.

(2) Neither Readers nor Writers are truly powerless, but their power is 
     restricted to affecting the outcome of events in realities other than
     their own.  So, while they may effect great changes in our world, they
     rarely do much of note in their own.

(3) Innovative Offense Boy would, of course, phrase it slightly differently,
     and it would be inherently unprintable.

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