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How to Build Elements of Social Status in your Character

By on July 29, 2013 . Category Column

Let’s suppose you’re thinking about a plot. This plot might turn into a book, a short story, a novel or even a romance. But before that happens, lots of thought needs to go into the environment, the narrator, the scenes, and of course, the character or characters involved. All of these elements combined contribute to a story’s plot.

Perhaps your main character is a successful lawyer. What are the ways you could evidence his characteristics to your readers? There are several possibilities, but let’s look at a well-known literary toll called elements of social status.

Let’s brainstorm for a moment. Is our hypothetical lawyer wearing an expensive watch? A Rolex, maybe? Is he walking around Manhattan wearing a $22,000 Ermenegildo Zegna suit? What about his glasses and shoes? What do they reveal? What type of cell phone is he carrying? When his secretary hands him a stack of documents to sign, is he holding a MontBlanc or a Tibaldi 18-carat gold pen? When he is having coffee with a friend, what is his speaking style? Does he speak slangs?

This thought process and identifying these types of elements in a character is not always necessary in order to start writing, but they can, however, help you to develop your character in greater depth or make they appear more real. You can always take the information and refine or revise as you go as your story comes to fruition. It’s about your style.

The elements of social status aren’t exclusive to just fiction. Non-fiction writers have been using these tolls as well, especially after the New Journalism movement, and writers like Tom Wolfe and Truman Capote, specifically. Capote used this literary tool and variations of it quite often, so if you want learn more about managing the elements of social status, Capote’s writings are a good place to start.

Wolfe is an excellent example of using elements of social status, as well, and coined the term “radical chic” when he wrote his 1970 essay “Radical Chic: That Party at Lenny’s,” which was a turning point for narrative journalism. This essay is known for Wolfe’s mastery in describing high society in great detail, and can serve as a great lesson on using elements of social status.

Read the original Wolfe’s essay here.

By Jr. Bellé

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