Monday, June 6, 2011

Giving The Finger

I enjoy giving advice every once in a while, such as never mixing laxatives and sleep aids before bed or if you drop a pork chop on the floor while cooking dinner don’t let your kids see you put it on your husband’s plate (be prepared to call them a liar because they always tell). But sometimes I read another’s advice and I have to share it.

In Writer’s Digest this month there is an article by published author Steven James. It’s called ‘Raise Your Characters above the Status Quo’, and it is in a word…brilliant.  He talks about how to add another dimension to your characters by determining their status through subtle word choices and gesture usage.

You have to constantly ask yourself how you want your readers to feel about a particular character. If your mc stomps across the floor this shows a lack of self control, and struts implies a need for attention, but if she strides then this shows confidence and composure. A person with high status may also shout, holler, or yell but if she screams, bawls, or screeches her status is lowered. And so is her likeability.

I once commented on one of my characters and the fact that her stomach clenched, tightened, and rolled over so much it sounded like she had a bad case of IBS by the end of the story (Irritable Bowel Syndrome for you peeps who’ve never lived off coffee and peanut M&M’s).

Gestures such as looking down, crossing your legs, and biting your lip can also lower status. Maintaining eye contact and remaining still while others fidget raises it. Even punctuation is critical. Too many exclamation points when a character is speaking transmits desperation, and you need to make sure this is what you intended to convey.

Mr. James goes on to say a wimpy protagonist isn’t interesting and a wimpy villain isn’t frightening. Both have to be strong and have high status in any really good story. This article made me look at my characters in a whole new light.  I have to hand it to Mr. Steven James, he has serious skills.
So listen up and be careful with the word usage!

And if you run out of gestures…giving the finger has always been my particular favorite.

What did you think I meant? Shame on you.


  1. I had the same reaction to the article. I thought it was brilliant. I was going to blog about it too, lol. I really liked the advice about not letting your MC ever be lower in status than the villain. They can be battered and beaten and in terrible shape, but they never relinquish their status.

    Yay, great post.

  2. I think being careful with which verbs we use is always important. :) My characters all sound like impatient mothers - they sigh so much! :)

  3. Lol. You always make me laugh! Sounds like great advice. I need to find this article!

  4. I just love reading your blog because you're so enjoyable. I just know your novel is going to be great. As for this post, well, hello? I could have used this months ago. ;)

  5. writing contest......My blog Amish Stories is having its first ever contest this week. The First prize winner will win 2 tickets to tour the farm where the 1985 move "Witness" staring Harrison Ford and Kelly Mcgillis was made in Strasburg,Pa . This farm is now Amish owned, and the family has given permission for folks to tour their farm. This may be the last time anyone will be able to walk and see the same things that Harrison Ford and the other actors saw during the making of "Witness". The Witness tour should last about 2.5 hours. In addition to the Witness farm tour tickets, 1st prize winner will also receive 2 tickets for Jacobs choice. There will also be a 2nd place prize, which will be 2 tickets for the Amish Homestead. Please go to My blog for contest details, and more information on the prizes. Richard from the Amish settlement of Lebanon county.


It helps to know I'm not just talking to myself.