Writing Crow: Part two in a four part series

Let me first mention that I’ve agreed to take part in Women and Words Alphabet Challenge starting in April. That will mean taking a break from this series. If you’re enjoying this peek into the improv world and how it might enhance your writing, look for it to return in May.

Now, onto Writing Crow. If you read my last installment you know that CROW is an acronym for a scaffold that improvisers often use in creating scenes. It stands for:

Character

Relationship

Objective

Where

This week I’ll be talking about Relationship.

Seems easy, right? They’re married. They’re co-workers. They’re complete strangers. But I’d like to offer a tool here that you might never have heard of. It’s called status, and it was developed by a master improv teacher Keith Johnstone. I know, I know, you’re thinking, what’s so new about that? And you immediately begin thinking economics. Rich person is higher status that poor person. Doctor is higher status than janitor.

But when Keith Johnstone talks about status he’s talking about the complex, and mostly unconscious, dance we all do that establishes a pecking order among out species. A person establishes high or low status through his or her body language, not his or her job.

Here are some high status moves:

Holding eye contact.

Taking up space. (Legs wide apart perhaps? Arm draped over a head? Sitting stretched across an arm chair with legs dangling off to the side.)

Feeling the freedom to touch other people, like you own them. (Picking lint of another’s clothing. Patting someone on the head.)

When walking assuming other people will get out of your way.

Here are some low status moves:

Touching one’s face.

Glancing over your shoulder. (Think of the cowboy walking out of the saloon, enemies at his back. If he glances over his shoulder he’ll be shot for sure.)

Taking up less space. (Sitting on the corner of a chair. Standing with legs and arms crossed, like a human knot.)

Needing permission before you can act.

For a great list of high and low status mannerisms check out the improv wiki.

Once you get a feel for status behavior it becomes an awesome tool that enables you to show your reader what the power dynamic is between your characters. What’s more, some of the most exiting stories revolve around a character’s change in status, or a complicated status. Think about the movie Rocky, a classic low to high story. (Okay. I admit it. I grew up in Philly.) Or the movie Remains of the Day where the head butler hires his father on at the estate to work beneath him, or the recent Oscar winner, The King’s Speech, where the low status teacher must teach the high status prince. Juicy! (The English do status like nobody else.) And if you’re wanting to go comedy, create a character who doesn’t abide by the status behavior you would expect: a low status lawyer who keeps asking for permission to defend you, a high status grocery cashier who gives you feedback on your food choices.

Status is truly a key into human behavior and fun to play with as a writer. If this interests you, I encourage you to get a hold of Keith Johnstone’s book, Impro.  It will change, not only the way you write, but also how you interact in the world.

And, as always, happy writing!

8 comments

  1. Very interesting and helpful. I imagine we intuitively pull status in–both in writing and on stage, but what a great tool to consciously implement to convey something without words. I’m gonna try it!

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  2. Cliffi, the coolness continues. I love thinking about this, and about pecking order. I’m a dog person, so I observe dogs a lot and they establish hierarchies pretty dang quick. Watching their body language makes me think about how people employ body language to determine rank/status/relationship. THANKS!

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  3. Very thought-provoking, especially when applied to lesbian relationships. With the ingrained factor of male status removed, the whole thing can play out in very complex ways.

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