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Character Creation Part 5: Status

This part of character creation is on the very specific aspect of status, click on for more general posts on physicality and objective.

Within improvisation, one influential metric for understanding how to create a character is their status. Heck there’s an entire impro magazine called Status. Its importance in impro/v mostly goes back to the work of Keith Johnstone, may he rest in peace.

But before we go any further, let's tease out the difference between station and status. For our purposes, your social station is the category of social value you find yourself in (maybe it's a noble title, maybe it's a job title). Your social status is how much power you ACTUALLY have. The servant who's secretly controlling the house has a low station but a high status, while the incompetent boss has a high station but low status.

I will be the first to admit that I was raised with the U.S.' understanding of social status as temporary, because our whole culture is built on aspirational narratives: sure I'm low status now, but just you wait! So it’s taken me a while to warm to status as a character tool and I’ve learned a few things along the way.

  • Status is something to play, but it’s not really a fixed trait over time. Someone who acts high status in their family may act low status at work.

  • Status is fundamentally about how much power you FEEL you have in any given situation/scene. It may be the same as how much power you actually have, it may not.

  • Status is also something that exists in relation to locations and objects. I can play high status to an office that I know inside and out, and low status to a rifle I’ve never shot before and don’t understand.

The things your character does that raise or lower their own or someone else’s status are called status moves. Here’s some examples!

Three Things To Do To Play High Status:

  1. Move very little + deliberate gestures.

  2. Take up more space with posture, have "good" posture.

  3. Give commands.


Three Things To Do To Play Low Status:

  1. Move a lot, either in space or by fidgeting nervously.

  2. Speak fast, repeat things, lots of filler sounds like "ah, uh, um."

  3. Be very reactive to what the higher-status character does, physically and/or emotionally.

Three Things To Do To Raise Your Partner’s Status:

  1. Ask for advice

  2. Seek approval

  3. Apologize


Three Things To Do To Lower Your Partner’s Status:

  1. Give advice

  2. Praise or criticize their work

  3. Ignore them

Status is a social thing, so status moves vary depending on cultural context (including subcultures). So that's just a big thing to keep in mind when working in whatever culture one finds oneself in - My tip is to look at the explicitly hierarchical relationships around you and figure out what the rituals of respect + status moves are in that context. For example, in Germany using the informal you versus the formal you can be a status move. The display of emotion and its role in power dynamics also varies quite a bit just among anglophone cultures. So these examples are just some things to start with! 

This LessWrong post reposted from The ImprovWiki reduces everything to  "I bite" and "Don't bite me" which i find somewhat violent, so I prefer "I am powerful" and "I am powerless" - even that phrasing biases toward high status, which I personally don't like, but it's functional.

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