February 2018 blog
There’s just one word that sums up January 2018 for me – flu!
I was completely and utterly kiboshed by the virus that bypassed the latest jabs and attacked so many people here in the UK. With a cold, most of us are able to carry on in some way or another. With flu? Just not possible. So I spent a lot of time sleeping and when awake, day-time TV and box sets kept me as entertained as my brain needed. As I began to feel better, I started noticing things about the programmes I was watching, relating them to writing. One aspect that struck me above all others was:
The use of STATUS and POWER
Watch any drama on television and you will soon realise that the characters are all part of one or more hierarchies: it may be the most basic of all ie a family. Or it could be a business, or a school, or a social group, or a situation. Each person will be a member of different groups and will, probably, have a different status in each of the groups they belong to.
Status and power are determined by a number of different factors, including class, race, sex, gender, religion, wealth, age, education, employment, fame, experience and marital status.
Whenever we talk about status, and in particular whether someone is of high or low status, we are making a judgement. Some people regard doctors as a higher status than footballers – others may disagree. The oldest child in a family might consider him/herself to be of a higher status than their siblings. A younger sibling may disagree because the eldest has a quick temper and bad judgement.
When two characters are up against each other, they will each will have their own agenda: each trying to raise their own status in relation to the other person. To change their own status, one character must bring about a change in someone else’s. For one person to rise, another has to fall, even if they don’t admit or show it.
Power can shift for many reasons: a policeman may have the upper hand when he goes to arrest a burglar he has caught red-handed; the power changes when the burglar produces a gun.
If you watch a television series for long enough (and flu will definitely let you do that!) you’ll see that the status between any two characters will change many times over the course of a number of episodes. And it is often the quest for power, for a higher status, that is at the heart of a lot of drama.
Thinking of your story in terms of change of power and/or status is another way of planning your writing and a good way of introducing that absolutely vital ingredient – conflict.
Have a look at the story you are currently working on. Can you make changes in the status and power of your main characters more apparent to emphasise the conflict?
And if you’re wondering which particular box set I got hooked on, then I’ll confess: it was Suits. I thought I’d watch one episode, just to see Meghan Markle. And I got hooked. I’m now onto Series 5 and I’m beginning to think it’s almost as good as The Good Wife. If you like American law dramas, then I definitely recommend it.
I’ve two to recommend this month:
Firstly, Sue Healy’s here
Sue and I met on a mentorship programme back in 2013 and even then I was impressed with the amount and variety of her work. If you look at her website, you’ll see just how successful she’s been, particular in recent years. Her play Imaginationship is currently on at the Finborough Theatre in London. Her latest blog gives some really good advice about building a character profile: don’t ask yourself the usual questions, think outside the box. Thank you, Sue, and best wishes for the play.
Secondly, writer and blogger Jerry Jenkins collected the thoughts of 41 writers on what advice they would have given to themselves when they were starting out. A good read and some interesting ideas. Click here
Writing prompts for February
Wishing you a good February – healthwise and writing-wise.