Returning the Favor in Fiction and Reality

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I was watching anime with my son when I noticed that there was a theme that popped up a bunch.  Not in one episode, but in various series.  It isn’t one that I’ve ever considered or seen much about, so I felt like broaching it.  In fact, we can see how ‘Returning the Favor’ relates to our own lives as well.  We are told very often that we need to payback the help that is given to us and do things without expecting a reward.  Yet, we don’t think about it outside of situations where a favor has been returned in glorious fashion or a selfish snub has been made.  So, let’s examine.

In Fiction

To make sure we’re on the same page, I want to be clear what ‘Returning the Favor’ is in my mind.  Simply put, this is when somebody helps you and, whether immediately or down the road, you help them out.  This happens a lot in fiction both clearly and by accident.  An adventurer saves a village in passing and they show up when a small army is needed or their savior is looking for a place to hide.  Sometimes, it isn’t even direct and the favor is returned by another figure.  In ‘Rise of the Shield Hero’, the main character saves a village during a cataclysmic event while the rest of the chosen heroes ignored it.  This resulted in a handful of soldiers and craftspeople supporting him later on because they had family in that village.  The favor had been returned.

It isn’t too hard to do this on paper.  You can plan it out or notice it when it happens, but it’s really a two-part equation.  Somebody has to do a good thing first.  It doesn’t even have to be seen since it could have happened before the story begins.  We’ve all seen stories where a person helps a hero because a relative or some other connection lent them a hand at some point.  After this has been established or seen, the favor is returned in some fashion that progresses the plot or solves a problem.  Probably one of the simplest plot devices you can use.

Of course, people don’t always like it.  These can be seen as contrived and a coincidence that the person who owes the favor can help.  Well . . . yes.  That’s kind of the point.  If the person returning the favor wasn’t useful for that situation then they wouldn’t be there at all.  Part of the point of this is that they or at least the hero see that they can help, which can be a coincidence.  Happens in real life too.  You just happen to know a person who can help you get a good job.  You happen to know a guy who knows a guy that is trying to get rid of a car while yours just broke.  Reality is fairly contrived and coincidental if you think about it.  Might be getting off topic, but the point is that you shouldn’t let this be a reason to avoid the returning of a favor in your book.  It could be the game changer that gives you the ending you want.

In Reality

Returning the favor is a really big thing for authors too.  One person promotes a book and hopes that others will do the same.  It’s much harder though because authors disappear from social media all the time.  Public calls for help can be missed while there are others who get help without returning the favor.  You get burnt enough times and you might not try to help anyone.  This ends up hurting you as well.  It really shows that returning the favor of promotion is a big part of being a self-promoting author.  Sometimes, it’s the only thing we have because it doesn’t cost money.

I will admit that it is a lot harder than it used to be.  Long ago, authors used to read each other’s published books and do blog reviews.  Some would even write a review on Amazon for a little boost.  Then, Amazon cracked down it because it was seen as cheating.  This is no longer a practice, which means we’ve lost a way to return the favor.  Although, I’m pretty sure many still do this on the sly, but they avoid Amazon when it comes to posting reviews.  Anyway, this is just how it used to be way back when.  Now, we have to be more creative in how we return favors and help each other out.

What do you think about returning the favor in fiction and reality?

About Charles Yallowitz

Charles E. Yallowitz was born, raised, and educated in New York. Then he spent a few years in Florida, realized his fear of alligators, and moved back to the Empire State. When he isn't working hard on his epic fantasy stories, Charles can be found cooking or going on whatever adventure his son has planned for the day. 'Legends of Windemere' is his first series, but it certainly won't be his last.
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17 Responses to Returning the Favor in Fiction and Reality

  1. L. Marie says:

    You have the most interesting topics!
    I think of this as the golden rule–do unto others. Some might think of this as paying it forward. I’ve seen this on episodes of Samurai Jack and certainly Avatar. Definitely seen it in real life.


  2. V.M.Sang says:

    I absolutely agree about doing a favour back.sadly, not everyone does. And if it can happen in real life, why not in fiction?
    I don’t think I’ve used it myself, but other authors have without it seeming too much of a co-incidence.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Seems to happen more in fiction than reality, but I might be jaded. I don’t do the review trades like years ago, but the promo trades always helped. I don’t wander blogs as much as I used to, so I miss chances to help others. This is why I sometimes worry that I’m not returning favors.


  3. You are right on about the favors. If you want others to help then you have to be willing to help others. There are a few authors out there who don’t get the concept. Good post, Charles.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I love to help. I learned a lot of this by hosting Lisa Burton Radio. A lot of people didn’t mind me putting a few evenings into their work, then were nowhere to be seen when I needed a stop. Some of them never even showed up on their own post day. I still help others. I’m either a sucker or a better person. I haven’t consciously used this in fiction, but it happened in The Ballad of Mrs. Molony.


    • I’ve found that too. In the past, I’ve offered days for promos and gotten responses from authors who never show up to help when I need volunteers. I promoted them anyway, but I gradually felt used.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve fallen into a rut of going with my tried and true hosts for the last few. 2020 was busy, so I tried not to hit everyone every time. I know I’d do better if I reached a bit farther out, but some of those don’t have many followers.


      • Definitely feeling that. Doesn’t help that anything I do gets me nothing. I doubt I have much of a man audience to give anyone a boost these days.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I read a couple of years ago that blogging was on the way out. I don’t think it’s come to that, but I notice my interaction and repeat visitors are down. Follower numbers are great, but I know a decent percentage of those are businesses and bots. I don’t have it in me to rebuild everything for YouTube or some kind of podcast.


      • It’s not as popular as it once was. Podcasts and shorter form social media took over. Caters the our species’ dwindling attention span.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. One thing about fiction, whatever the genre, is that we all long for a world that is fair and balanced. Well written stories can give us that. In the fairy tales, a polite young person does a service for an elderly person and gets crucial advice. Or a lion decides not to eat a mouse, so the mouse later chew through a net the save the lion.

    That sort of thing really resonates with readers, maybe even more because we know there are many circumstances when the favor is not or cannot be returned.

    In more complicated tales, you might have someone ask a dodgy person for help and receive it, but then be told, “I’ll collect a favor from you later.” Then you have the concern about what that favor will be hanging over the character for the rest of the story.


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