I have written at some length about the importance of well rounded characters since they are foundational to storytelling. Today I want to focus on a word that points to an essential aspect of character dynamics—status.
Thinking about well rounded characters and their interaction in terms of a social, cultural, economic and physical dynamic is helpful because it often resolves into a conflict predicated upon differences in status.
In this sense the status of a character, relative to others, directs his response to a threat or bounty. It is a powerful generator of subtext—a boon to any story.
Status is in itself neither good nor bad, but it does mean that the character exhibiting it is the prime mover in a scene. The status-laden character’s desire for a specific goal drives the beats in a scene. It also means that this character has the most to lose if his status is diminished and will therefore fight to keep it.
“Well rounded characters exhibit behaviour that reflects their status.”
In his chapter, What No One Is Teaching You About Characterization (The Complete Book of Novel Writing: Readers Digest), Steven James provides a list of polarities that define the status of characters.
The list could be extended almost indefinitely, but you get the idea. The point is that power is communicated through a variety of physical and psychological signals expressed in carefully chosen words and actions. These signals can be exhibited by villains and heroes alike. Be sure to fully utilise them in your scenes as your characters vie for dominance or survival.
Exercise: Select several scenes you have written. Can you identify the status of each character? How does the power dynamic between them shape their interaction? How is this communicated to the reader?
Well rounded characters lie at the foundation of impactful writing. The status of each helps to determine the power dynamic between them.