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.