Consider Status in Dealings Between Characters

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Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

A few weeks ago, I attended The Fiction Intensive Writing Conference offered by critically acclaimed author, speaker, storyteller, and writing teacher, Steven James. One teaching item especially caught my interest: Status. I had read about status between characters in James’s book, Troubleshooting Your Novel, but I became more intrigued with the idea as James taught the subject at the conference.

James writes, “Status is the submission or dominance characters have in relationship to other characters. If a person is domineering or subservient with everyone, that character won’t be as interesting because he always has the same status.

On the other hand, if a character has different degrees of status with his boss, his wife, his daughter, his colleagues at work, the villains he’s tracking, and so on, he’ll seem more believable and multidimensional. Because that’s the way things are in real life.”

A character’s status will change from one scene to another. It will change from one person to another. And it will change with the same person from one interaction to another. 

James writes, “Developing a strong protagonist relies on status management.” The protagonist will have situations when he or she is in a low status (situational status), such as when he’s captured by bad guys. But readers are attracted to protagonists with high status. James says, “[High-status characters] might be afraid, but they don’t let the fear get the best of them. Despite the peril they’re facing, they’re able to make courageous choices—especially when it comes to rescuing or helping others in need.”

What lowers a character’s status?

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Among James’s list are:

dismissive of someonecutting others downrushing around frantically
cowardicejudgmentalimpatient
unsureself-congratulatingneedy
whiney giving inplacating
defensiveinsultingdemeaning

What raises a character’s status?

James mentions:

Standing up for the underdogtreating others with respectmarveling at right things
sacrificeself-controlpatience
slowing downturning other cheekcomposure
laughing at self truly listening to othersconfidence
couragedevotioncompassionate

What balances status between characters?

James mentions:

banter
flirting
ribbing

My Example 1

Mark hung up his coat. “Do you want to go out? Eat at Mario’s? See a movie? (asking his wife her preference: high status)

From her prone position on the couch, JoAnn crossed her arms over her chest. “You always want to go out. Can’t you realize my job is demanding and I need downtime? I just want to watch TV. (whiney: lowers her status)

Mark’s Choice 1: “That’s a bunch of crock. You’re just lazy and always want your way.” (cutting her down: lowers his status)

Mark’s Choice 2: “You’ve had a bad day. I’ll make us chicken tacos, then while you rest, I’ll go to that movie you didn’t want to see.” (listens to and affirms her, offers help, but doesn’t give in to staying home and watching TV: raises his status)

My Example 2

Dan entered Mr. Johnson’s office with the information his boss had requested.

“Have a seat, Dan. Hope you didn’t have to stay very late to work up these numbers.” (Compassionate: raises his status)

Mr. Johnson shuffled through the papers, rearranging the pages. Dan cringed. Should he mention the order was important? (cowardice: lowering his status)

“These numbers are all wrong.” Mr. Johnson raised his voice and sent the papers skidding across his desk to Dan. (impatient and overreacting: lowering his status)

Dan took a breath, picked up the papers, and ordered the pages. “This top page has the numbers you asked to see. The subsequent pages show last and other year’s numbers for comparison.” He extended the pages to his boss. (slows down, stays in reasoning mode, and again offers the pages to satisfy his boss’s needs: raises his status)

What other actions lower or raise status?

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

When to Use a Hyphen in a Compound Adjective

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript is a self-editing encyclopedia! Each chapter sets up the targeted technique, examples show what to look for in your manuscript, then proven actions are provided to take your writing to the next level. Whether you are a seasoned writer or a newbie, you need this book! 

—Sally Shupe, freelance editor, aspiring author

We’ll look at fourteen cases showing when to use a hyphen in a compound adjective. 

1. Compound Adjective 

Generally, you’ll use a hyphen between two or more words to create a compound adjective that is placed before a noun. The created compound adjective will have a single idea different than the meanings of the individual words.

Examples of compound adjectives found in my dictionary:

push-button process

cold-blooded heart

five-star rating

mean-spirited attitude

nail-biting experience

stomach-turning odor

Examples I created:

two-job dilemma

strawberry-flavored kiss

gross-smelling cleaner

falling-over house

moss-covered stone

hair-frizzing fear

*Don’t use a hyphen if two words before a noun don’t form a new meaning as a unit. For instance, friendly big dog or pretty yellow flower don’t work with hyphens. Friendly-big and pretty-yellow don’t stand as single-meaning 

2. Compound Adjective Follows a Noun 

Usually, when a compound adjective follows a noun, no hyphen is necessary, because the relationship is clear without a hyphen, or the sentence is written differently.

Examples:

The process was a series of pushing buttons.

His comment was cold blooded.

He gave the movie five stars.

Her attitude was mean spirited.

The experience was nail biting. 

The odor was gross smelling.

 

3. Confusion

If there’s a possibility for confusion add a hyphen.

Examples:

Meg wore the little used coat to dig potatoes.

Did Meg wear the little used-coat or the little-used coat?

Ella passed her difficult driving test.

Was the test for difficult driving (difficult-driving test) or was the driving test difficult?

4. Suspended Hyphens 

Usually when two or more compound adjectives with a common base come before a noun, write them as in the examples below.

Examples:

The doctor prescribed the pills for the one- to two-week illness.

The task force came up with short- and long-term solutions.

5. Compound Adjective Used in Ages 

Examples:

The four-year-old school had a huge crack in the basement wall.

For ages of children, an adjective or a noun will have hyphens.

Noun: Jenny has a four-year-old.Adjective: Jane had three-year-old twins.

6. Proper Nouns 

When proper nouns are used as compound adjectives, don’t use hyphens.

Examples:

Jaxon is a United States Marine.

The store sold South American pottery.She was a National Book Award winner.

7. Compound Adjectives in Titles

Make sure you capitalize all the words inside a compound adjective in a title.

Examples:

You Can Become a Self-Assured Man

How to Repair Plaster-Wall Cracks

8. Well-Known Expressions 

The editors who edit my books do not hyphenate some well-known expressions.

Examples:

high school: Mark asked Jenna to the high school prom.

department store: Candy tried on the department store dress.

small business: The small business doors opened at nine.

9. Prefixes and Suffixes 

Usually, words with prefixes and suffixes are not hyphenated. 

Examples:

Scott underwent extracranial surgery. (prefix: extra-)

Cassie loves multipurpose tools. (prefix: multi-)

Mick promoted a cleanliness mantra. (suffix: -ness)

It was a disastrous party. (suffix: -ous)

Below are some exceptions.

Use a hyphen when a prefix is joined with a capitalized word. 

Examples:

We had a pre-Thanksgiving gathering.

Disliking apple pie is an un-American quality.

Compound adjectives that have prefixes self-, all-, and usually non- should be hyphenated.

Examples:

Jack was a self-employed man.

Jill gave Peter and all-knowing smile.

I prefer non-alcoholic drinks. 

Compound adjectives that have suffixes -style, -free, and -based should be hyphenated.

Examples:

Haley adorned her walls with Monet-style paintings.

I wished John would give up sugar-free beverages.

Kristin was allergic to sulfa-based drugs. 

10. Compound Adjective Formed with an Adverb

A hyphen is unnecessary when the compound adjective is formed with an adjective and an adverb, especially adverbs ending in -ly.

Examples:

Colby was a highly efficient welder.

I have a finely tuned system.

You’ve made a poorly constructed model.

11. Hyphen with a Present or Past Participle

When a present participle or a past participle is used in a compound adjective, use a hyphen.

Examples:

What a fine-looking man he is. (present participle)

I prefer grass-fed cattle. (past participle.)

12. Compound Adjectives with Numbers

When numbers are place at the front of a compound adjective, use a hyphen.

Examples:

We leased a second-story apartment.

The speaker gave a twenty-minute speech.

We’re going on a seven-day cruise.

13. Compound Adjectives with Fractions

Examples:

We lacked a two-thirds quorum.

Phil presented a half-baked plan.

14. Comparative & Superlative Compound Adjectives AND a Participle

When this case arises, don’t use a hyphen.

Comparative words are like: meaner, faster, lower.

Superlative words are like: slowest, meanest, worst

Examples:

My hometown was the fastest growing city in Florida. (Participle: growing)

My painting was the ugliest looking piece in the art show. (Participle: looking)

Which hyphenating problem crops up for you most?

Need to rework your book? Zoe M. McCarthy’s step-by-step reference guide leads you through the process, helping you fight feeling overwhelmed and wrangle your manuscript into publishable shape in 30 days. Tailor Your Manuscript delivers a clear and comprehensive action plan.

—Elizabeth Spann Craig, Twitteriffic owner, bestselling cozy mystery author

Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days is chock-full of practical techniques. Numerous examples clarify problem areas and provide workable solutions. The action steps and blah busters McCarthy suggests will help you improve every sentence, every paragraph of your novel. If you follow her advice and implement her strategies, a publisher will be much more likely to issue you a contract.

—Denise K. Loock, freelance editor, lightningeditingservices.com

Your Story Isn’t About You Even Though It’s a Story About You

Zoe McCarthy’s book, Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days, is a fresh and innovative refocusing of your novel or novella. Through a few simple—and fun—steps, Zoe helps writers take their not-ready-for-publication and/or rejected manuscripts to a spit-polish finish. Writing is hard work, yes, but it doesn’t have to be difficult.—Eva Marie Everson, best-selling and award-winning author, conference director, president of Word Weavers International, Inc.

So who is your personal story about? It’s about the reader and his/her reading experience. 

If you’re writing a story based on your personal experience, be careful to avoid the following four pitfalls.

Image by Joe from Pixabay

Giving Unnecessary Backstory

A personal story is meant to be based on a small slice of a writer’s considerable lifelong material. So, writers must refrain from slowing the forward motion of their particular story by telling side anecdotes or going off on tangents.

Sometimes writers stick these extras in odd places in the story as if they thought of a side story while writing page eight and place it there when it had a small connection to what they wrote on page two. 

Novelist Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch’s advice is good: “Murder your darlings.”

Explaining

The story is about an interesting event that happened in the writer’s life. But instead of building the story tension, the writer explains why he took such and such action. Or instead of giving the flavor of the setting the writer details the setting as if he’s writing a travel book. Or tells the reader the differences between the technology of that time and the current day.

Who’d want to read historical fiction if the writer interrupts the story to tell the reader only rotary phones existed at the time, instead of simply showing the character entering a telephone number one digit at a time on the black telephone’s dial.

Adding Unnecessary Information

Here the writer peppers the real story with their likes and dislikes, their preferences, and their judgments that have little or no bearing on the event. Sometimes the writer reminds the reader of information the writer already revealed, forcing the reader to read repetitious information instead of getting on with the story.

Telling the General Story and Impact Up Front

The writer thinks mentioning the bad or good event in general terms and how it affected their perspective on life before they begin the story is a teaser. No. It needs a spoiler alert. It removes the thrill of reading the actual event when and if they ever get to it. Sometimes the writer does this multiple times in the story before another secondary event.

Example: Revealed early in the writer’s marriage. If I’d known Jerry was going to divorce me in two years, I’d have opened a bank account and put half our money in my account.

What else ruins a person’s personal account of an event?

BUY NOW

I finished reading Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days. I have AND will highly recommend it to anyone who dabbles in fiction. It’s one of the best “how to” books I’ve ever read.

—Marsha Hubler, Director Montrose Christian Writers Conference

If you want to increase your chance of hearing yes instead of sorry or not a fit for our list at this time, this book is for you. If you want to develop stronger story plots with characters that are hard to put down, this book is for you. Through McCarthy’s checklists and helpful exercises and corresponding examples, you will learn how to raise the tension, hone your voice, and polish your manuscript. I need this book for my clients and the many conferees I meet at writer’s conferences around the country. Thank you, Zoe. A huge, #thumbsup, for Tailor Your Fiction Manuscript in 30 Days.  

—Diana L. Flegal, literary agent, and freelance editor

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American Christian Fiction Writers

American Christian Fiction Writers

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